The term
social housing is often regarded as a synonym for social unrest, deterioration,
delinquency or ghettoization. This tainted perception doesn’t come without
reason – social housing often provides a place in which unsolicited anti-social
behaviour thrives, as it sees large groups of low income households living
within close proximity to one another. A festering ground for the unemployed, social
residue, which would, over time greatly taint the perception of social housing.
This began to raise essential questions about what can be achieved through
carefully planned social housing schemes, and prompted the city of Zurich to
invest in the implementation of a number of first-of-their-kind housing
schemes, which are repainting the vision of social housing.


The evolution of housing cooperatives in Zurich

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In Zurich,
the first housing cooperatives were founded in the early 20th
century primarily for industrial workers. This was similar to the establishment
of social housing in most Northern European Megacities at the time. The demand
for low cost housing was closely associated with the expansion of industries in
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Labourers uniting with a
common goal – to provide themselves and their families with secure and stable
housing. The establishment of the cities first cooperative schemes date back to
1907- the same year in which the city established a new law which saw that the
provision of social housing had to be guaranteed by the city for lower income households.
That lower cost housing was made available to those in need, due to the
consistently increasing value of both property and land. This legislation was key
to the development of cooperative housing, widely regarded as the birth year of
the cooperative housing movement in Zurich.


The City of
Zurich relied on housing cooperatives to provide affordable housing, rather
than directly investing in social housing construction, which is still the case
today. This meant that rather than directly building the housing complexes
themselves, they’d instead assist cooperatives in the project, through
facilitating their establishment. This resulted in being a more efficient and
less expensive approach for the local government. Subsequently developing a
unique relationship between cooperatives and the city; a relationship which is still
prominent today.


After the
establishment of the first cooperatives in 1907, this new movement rapidly developed
between the world wars, and with particular pace following the Second World War.
Low cost land, facilitated financing and communal interest in particular allowed
for the extensive period of cooperative housing developments, which continued
into the mid twentieth century. Beginning in the 1950’s however, the cities
land policy changed. Appropriate sites for construction became rare, and as a
result the city then began to offer long term land leases instead.  


pioneering days of the construction of contemporary cooperative housing schemes
ceased in the early 1970’s, as Zurich underwent a decline in construction and
renovation of social housing, eventually terminating entirely. Existing cooperatives
and the city government simply administered their existing assets but were building
near to nothing, and spending little on the upkeep of their properties. No
longer providing a sufficient standard of housing to lower income individuals
and families, and suffering a great decline in  



of the city saw an economic shift to the finance industry, with a large
proportion of the urban population dispersing to the outskirts of Zurich.




Following a
coincidence of particular circumstances, it became clear that the provisions and
housing policy needed to change.


termination in the construction and renewal of social housing resulted in a period
of social and economic crisis amongst the urban population. The youth in particular
rebelled against the countries strict conservative society, protesting for much
needed change. [1]


turmoil provided fertile grounds from which a renewal movement would evolve, triggered
by two key factors in the late 1990’s. Socially oriented citizens, and a new
municipal policy oriented to re-launch social housing construction – the
horizon for Zurich’s social housing began to evolve.  


industrial terrains, then sitting as abandoned wastelands became the focus of conversation
regarding the future of housing within the city. Citizen involvement was
encouraged, and active engagement from those at the forefront of the squatting
movement and the youth revolts began to consider “housing cooperatives to be an
instrument for implementing utopian dreams”[2].


with the
development of schemes allowed new housing projects to answer to the needs of



2007 marked
the hundred-year anniversary of the birth of cooperative housing in Zurich.
This celebration sparked a discussion among members of existing cooperatives,
about the future of housing in the city.  


As a result
of the collaboration between the city of Zurich local council, advocates for
social housing, architects and communities worked towards a vision of what the
term social housing means, and what it should offer to the community. Social
housing in Zurich however, for over the last hundred years has made a
remarkable impact on the concept of social housing.




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