After nearly 20 years of growth in city centers, urban co-working spaces like ours are expanding to the suburbs. Our membership has grown by 27 percent in the past two years to 1,700 companies, from some of the nation’s leading businesses like Airbnb, Groupon, and LegalZoom. And as housing costs soar, the average monthly rent for our midtown coworking spaces now exceeds $1,100 — a recent nationwide average for a small business.
N.Y.C. needs a system to deliver on affordable housing. Regulating the mortgage market only works when there is less demand for single-family homes. As public and private investments continue to support the housing market, it becomes clear that the city will need more spaces like ours, where like-minded companies can share office space with one another.
This is happening in other places in the country. Urban coworking spaces in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston, Austin, and Orlando are turning suburban condos and office buildings into mini office parks in their lobby lobbies. The closest match in New York might be a shared workspace in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, or areas of Queens where the median home price is under $600,000, but that remains a long way off the price of a studio or one-bedroom at our Midtown coworking spaces. But it’s worth noting that they aren’t purely commuter spaces, either. Not only do more than half of our members not commute to work every day, but companies in our host spaces are a fraction of the size of those in some of New York’s larger urban coworking communities.
These spaces will be useful for those who want to stay near their businesses and employees and are looking for space to expand, both physically and in terms of the types of services they provide.
For example, my coworking space in Brooklyn now has a full-fledged salon. Back when we first opened in 2014, we were doing “morning hair” and “afternoon cut.” But these days, we have three full-time stylists and a dedicated staff, and they also have extra hours at night in their alleyside space, as well as free housekeeping and laundry service to make commuting to work less stressful.
As social networks grow and as partners like Lyft or Uber continue to rapidly expand, it’s natural for them to move into locations where small to mid-sized businesses share shared offices.
It’s not too late for cities to respond to the move to the suburbs by forming non-profit co-working communities, like the popular coworking space in Detroit, or supporting businesses trying to transition to some form of shared space from traditional business park surroundings. So far, many cities have been reluctant to do either because they worry that it could result in the gentrification of their neighborhoods. But a growing number of cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, are offering innovative and creative ways to connect and incentivize companies that could rent space in the neighborhoods, in addition to providing tax breaks for those who move there.
We have a lot of work to do, but cities can step up to the plate, with the help of the larger company and their investors, and keep innovating in order to help address the challenges of urbanization and build better communities. There’s so much that can be done, and the more we can build supportive spaces to help facilitate this process, the better our cities will become for our young people and our entrepreneurs.
Shannon Hilfiker, is the executive director of WeWork, which has offices in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.