We have tried to find answers by looking at existing European housing projects that have a community element in their concept. We found concepts in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland (among others) presented under names like ‘Co-Living’, ‘Housing Community’, ‘Neighbourhood’, ‘Housing Collective’ and similar. But none of these concepts convinced us that they could fulfil the needs of a new generation of adults in the coming years.
Ambera’s Founder, Jan Olav Frestad, remembers seeing a project he liked as early as the 1990s in the USA, so we went there to find the answer. We found out that the Americans had built over two thousand projects with community as a central element over the past 60 years – tailored towards people aged 55+. Entire towns built around making it easier for residents who want it to have an active, social life. We spoke with residents, and the stories we have heard have engaged us, inspired us – and touched us. You can hear some of them here:
A resident in an Arizona community said this to us, and we agree. The stories and genuine, open happiness of the people we saw living in these communities in the US inspired us to create a European version of this American concept. And so, Ambera was born.
But why has nobody in Europe done this already? We ran a thorough analysis of the European real estate market, but could not find a single project approaching the scale and scope of communities we saw in the US. What has kept European Developers from building towns around the idea of community? Is it just that they are not aware of the concept, or are there specific issues that make it impossible for them to build something like this?
After visiting and studying over a hundred projects in the US, we’ve identified three ‘success factors’ that we think a town built around community should incorporate:
Size is vital if a project is going to have the diverse range of people – with different interests and from different walks of life – it needs in order to be a real community. In a community of 1500 people, you’re guaranteed to find 15-20 people you share an interest with, whether that interest is fly fishing or chess. Another not-insignificant side effect of larger communities is that the costs of building and running shared community facilities are shared among a larger group.
An Activity Centre with a ‘Lifestyle Director’ is the core of the Ambera concept. Here, you will find Yoga classes, chess clubs, history lectures (and appropriate spaces for all these activities) – or simply a place to have a cup of coffee with a friend. Lifestyle Directors organise clubs and activities, and put people in contact with each other. We know that Americans are very good at socialising, but we Europeans aren’t bad at it, especially if we get a little help.
Read our interview with a Lifestyle Director from one of Florida’s largest communities:
What does a day in the life of a Lifestyle Director look like?
Presence is the third factor. We found the best explanation on an American Developer’s website: “Residents, not visitors, make a community”. It is important that owners live in the community – joining in with activities, and contributing to community life. All along the Spanish coast, there are countless ‘ghost towns’, where people have bought holiday properties that they use two, perhaps three times a year. This is not what we would call a ‘community’.
With these three success factors identified, it is easier to understand why nobody in Europe has built one of these communities: they have either been thinking too small, the activity centres they have built have been devoid of life, or they have not given people a reason to live there. Usually, they’re missing two or more.
At Ambera, we will make sure that these three factors are considered in all of our projects, and build homes with successful, lively communities that are active year-round. We will build homes that people can afford to buy, with communities that people can afford to run. And we will build projects tailored towards active adults, as well as projects that bring together people of all ages – from active adults, to younger families with children.
We look forward to welcoming you to Ambera!