The termsocial housing is often regarded as a synonym for social unrest, deterioration,delinquency or ghettoization. This tainted perception doesn’t come withoutreason – social housing often provides a place in which unsolicited anti-socialbehaviour thrives, as it sees large groups of low income households livingwithin close proximity to one another. A festering ground for the unemployed, socialresidue, which would, over time greatly taint the perception of social housing.This began to raise essential questions about what can be achieved throughcarefully planned social housing schemes, and prompted the city of Zurich toinvest in the implementation of a number of first-of-their-kind housingschemes, which are repainting the vision of social housing. The evolution of housing cooperatives in Zurich In Zurich,the first housing cooperatives were founded in the early 20thcentury primarily for industrial workers.
This was similar to the establishmentof social housing in most Northern European Megacities at the time. The demandfor low cost housing was closely associated with the expansion of industries inthe late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Labourers uniting with acommon goal – to provide themselves and their families with secure and stablehousing. The establishment of the cities first cooperative schemes date back to1907- the same year in which the city established a new law which saw that theprovision 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 theconsistently increasing value of both property and land. This legislation was keyto the development of cooperative housing, widely regarded as the birth year ofthe cooperative housing movement in Zurich. The City ofZurich relied on housing cooperatives to provide affordable housing, ratherthan directly investing in social housing construction, which is still the casetoday. This meant that rather than directly building the housing complexesthemselves, they’d instead assist cooperatives in the project, throughfacilitating their establishment.
This resulted in being a more efficient andless expensive approach for the local government. Subsequently developing aunique relationship between cooperatives and the city; a relationship which is stillprominent today. After theestablishment of the first cooperatives in 1907, this new movement rapidly developedbetween the world wars, and with particular pace following the Second World War.Low cost land, facilitated financing and communal interest in particular allowedfor the extensive period of cooperative housing developments, which continuedinto the mid twentieth century.
Beginning in the 1950’s however, the citiesland policy changed. Appropriate sites for construction became rare, and as aresult the city then began to offer long term land leases instead. Thepioneering days of the construction of contemporary cooperative housing schemesceased in the early 1970’s, as Zurich underwent a decline in construction andrenovation of social housing, eventually terminating entirely. Existing cooperativesand the city government simply administered their existing assets but were buildingnear to nothing, and spending little on the upkeep of their properties. Nolonger providing a sufficient standard of housing to lower income individualsand families, and suffering a great decline in Deindustrialisationof the city saw an economic shift to the finance industry, with a largeproportion of the urban population dispersing to the outskirts of Zurich. Following acoincidence of particular circumstances, it became clear that the provisions andhousing policy needed to change.
Thistermination in the construction and renewal of social housing resulted in a periodof social and economic crisis amongst the urban population. The youth in particularrebelled against the countries strict conservative society, protesting for muchneeded change.  Thisturmoil provided fertile grounds from which a renewal movement would evolve, triggeredby two key factors in the late 1990’s. Socially oriented citizens, and a newmunicipal policy oriented to re-launch social housing construction – thehorizon for Zurich’s social housing began to evolve. Formerindustrial terrains, then sitting as abandoned wastelands became the focus of conversationregarding the future of housing within the city. Citizen involvement wasencouraged, and active engagement from those at the forefront of the squattingmovement and the youth revolts began to consider “housing cooperatives to be aninstrument for implementing utopian dreams”. with thedevelopment of schemes allowed new housing projects to answer to the needs of 2007 markedthe 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 resultof the collaboration between the city of Zurich local council, advocates forsocial housing, architects and communities worked towards a vision of what theterm social housing means, and what it should offer to the community. Socialhousing in Zurich however, for over the last hundred years has made aremarkable impact on the concept of social housing.