Survival Chic

There is a collective desire for something stripped back & stripped down … a push towards the pared-down parts rather than the complex whole … the core, rather than the skin or flesh … the essential elements of our humanity; bare with us as we talk this through…

Recently we detected the not-so-subtle undercurrent of a return to basics (see earlier post). Primarily a ‘devolution’ of life experience, this cultural drive encourages us to strip back our lives and embrace the pure, primal elements of life rather than the excess of its disposable trappings. Now, we’re not just happy with making our environment a testament to simplicity and austerity, but are turning inward, focusing on our sense of being human and asking a lot of the same questions. What are the basic elements of humanity? What lies at the stripped back core beneath our skin and flesh? What is excess and disposable versus what is enduring and sustainable?

The commercial success of television such as Man vs. WildSurvivor ManNaked and Afraidas well as blockbuster films such as Gravity, 127 hours, All Is Lost and The Life of Pi are testament to the fact that there is a growing curiosity around skills & attributes we’ve all but left behind in our specialised modern existence. They have popularised the allure of getting ‘back to basics’ as humans and ridding ourselves of all the superficial/artificial trappings of our evolved selves and focusing on lower order, physiological & safety needs – such as food, warmth, shelter, security etc. We’re flipping the Maslow hierarchy. Culturally, we’ve reverted to a more devolved sense of who we really are. Basic survival is now uber-chic. We’re no longer chasing the best things in life, preferring instead to dig deep for the primal things that ensure our sustainability as human beings.


This recent advertisement for South Australia’s Barossa region is a perfect example of the celebration of all things pure & primal.  The ad takes a far more stripped back approach to tourism advertising than the glamour and wonder we have grown accustomed to. It goes beyond rustic, into primal territory with shots of earth, fire, sex, death, food and desire set amongst harsh landscapes beckoning to be tamed. What we have here is less focus on the dressed-up product and more focus on ‘getting to the source’, the land and the elements. With Nick Cave as the backing music it doesn’t get much more raw than this. The Barossa is certainly targeting those consumers who crave a ‘real’, unprocessed travel experience by talking to this evolving curiosity around our more basic human drivers.

So what else can we expect in this space? A resurgence in hunting and gathering? Communal living arrangements? Tribal dance & polygamy? Group exercise fads designed to test our physical limits? (Wait, we’re already there with Cross Fit & Tough Mudder). Perhaps here in NSW our Premier had his finger firmly on the pulse in legalising hunting in national parks. After all, it would be wrong to deny us this essential element of our humanity.

Co-housing not just for hippies any more

The idea that people can live a harmonious and fulfilling life within a community focussed envrionment is an old idea currently undergoing reinvention amongst some forward thinking urbanites.  While it may not be for everyone, have a read below and come to your own conclusions. 

My thought was that this sounds like an interesting model for people who wish to live independently with a home-owning carer (ie nurse or doctor) as one of the residents living within the community.  It developed int eh right way, it could potentialy eleviate some of our aged care problems...

John Mangan SMH
April 10, 201

Like-minded people are signing up for co-housing for a more sustainable way of living.
''PEOPLE often assume we're hippies,'' says Tania Lewis, as she explains a radical housing development she and two dozen other Melburnians are planning for the city's inner suburbs.
The concept is called co-housing, and it could hardly be further from a rural commune. When complete, the high-density inner-city development will comprise about 30 self-contained, privately owned residences, each with its own kitchen and living areas, sharing a building for group meals and guest bedrooms, and garden space including a vegie patch and chicken coop.
''We all believe in neighbourhood values and sustainability but also, working together, we expect big economies of scale,'' says Dr Lewis, a senior research fellow in RMIT's school of media and communication.

Inspiration for the project comes not from Nimbin but hard-headed Scandinavians, the same people who gave us Lego and IKEA. Dr Lewis says Denmark has hundreds of co-housing developments. Five per cent of all new housing in Denmark is co-housing, and it is becoming popular in the US.
Dr Lewis's group, Urban Coup, is an incorporated body including healthcare professionals, architects, urban planners and environmentalists. Over the past two years it has scoured Melbourne suburbs within a 10-kilometre radius of the CBD, looking for suitable sites and willing developers. It is also looking for a handful more kindred spirits to sign up.

 Gilbert Rochecouste, a ''place-maker'' with community building consultant Village Well, says similar schemes have a good record overseas. ''Co-housing is a powerful model that can radically reduce energy usage and open up shared resources, while not asking people to live in a commune. It's about living sustainably in a community but still having your own private space.

''In between a Docklands apartment and the suburban sprawl, there are not many options. We need to start rethinking our models of development. Housing these days tends to assume one size fits all, which has cost us in terms of our well-being, both emotionally and psychologically.
''For example, co-housing gives grandma and grandpa the option to still live in the community, with their children and nieces and nephews, not having to live in a retirement village.''
Urban Coup members are stumping up $450,000 to $500,000 each, with the project expected to have a total budget of up to $15 million. Dr Lewis says the community will not be cheap to buy into, but the shared resources and economies of scale will mean substantial savings in living expenses.

An optimistic mission statement includes commitments to celebrate individuality and community, to respect each other's opinions and boundaries, and to regularly share food together.
As for conflicts, because the community is more united and integrated than a usual suburban block, they expect many typical neighbourhood disputes to be nipped in the bud.

They have, nevertheless, taken steps in their articles of association to structure conflict resolution, with a representative committee and, if necessary, outside mediation from such bodies as the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria. A decision-making process includes a schedule of meetings and votes aimed at consensus. Failing that, a majority of 75 per cent not objecting can carry proposals.

Finding the right property is a huge challenge. Paula Jorgenson was part of Merri Cohousing, which spent more than five years planning a development in Melbourne's inner-north but found rising property prices torpedoed its intentions.

That group disbanded, but if the right opportunity came along again, Ms Jorgenson says she would jump at it.
''I don't like living behind a fence,'' she says.
''A more convivial arrangement was exactly what I was looking for.''

Co-housing sends out a message that we can live in a much more authentic, sustainable way, says Mr Rochecouste. ''Our planning laws and regulations need to shift, councils need to be educated as well as developers, but ultimately I think we're going to see a lot more mid-level developers taking this up.''

Dr Lewis says she is looking forward to the fun and benefits of being in a community.
''There are all the activities we can do together when the development is completed, but also we'll be able to share tools, share cars and save energy. Being in a single household is a very inefficient way to live.''