A City of Housing Co-operatives – It Exists!

The Bronx in New York City might not be the first place you would think of in relation to co-operative housing. Specifically on this side of the Atlantic, we might consider the Netherlands, Sweden or Germany as key examples of the success of the co-operative housing movement. However, New York offers an insight into a ambitious project to develop a city imbued with the co-operative ethos.While not technically a city, Co-op City is the largest co-operative housing development in the world, with over 42,000 people living in co-operatives – equivalent to the whole of Drogheda. The site, which began as a swamp and, later, a theme park Freedom Land, construction of the ‘co-operative city’ began in 1966. There are 35 high rise apartment blocks, alongside clusters of townhouses on 320 acres. The use of only 20% of the possible land leaves a large section of the development open to green spaces and community usage.The development is commonly called a ‘city within a city’. With 3 shopping centres, eight parking garages, two middle schools, three grade schools and one high school (which has its own planetarium), it’s easy to see why. That said, the history of Co-op City has not always been rosy. In 1975, for example, due to mismanagement and corruption within the management of the development, the community was forced to default on their loan, faced with staggering increases in their maintenance costs. The community rallied together and organised the largest and longest (13 months in total) rent strike in US history. They were ultimately successful in their objectives and, following negotiations, new life was brought into the community, with significant periods of renovation carried out in order to rebuild a once-again thriving community.Many members of the co-operatives see current developments within Co-op City as a ‘renaissance’, with massive investment being pumped into ‘green’ initiatives, including ensuring energy efficiency alongside using clean energy to power and heat the co-operative. In recent years, there has also been considerable changes with regards to how the management of the co-operative, with significant investments in technology and resources.

What do you think? Could a small country like Ireland do with a similar development? Would you live in a city full of co-operatives?

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