The Cooperative Model Discussing the History of Residential Co-ops and Condos

The idea of cooperative living began in the 19th century in central and northern European countries, and came to America late in that century, sprouting in various forms in parts of New York City. For some residents here, it was a way that building tenants could band together and gain control over their quality of life, such as with the Finnish immigrants who created affordable housing for themselves through numerous buildings in Brooklyn in the first part of the 20th century.

Early on, the cooperative notion also had another, more exclusive side. Co-ops were a way for people to say who their neighbors would be, and a means by which they could keep out those they did not like, for whatever reason. Of course, one could also view such a system as just a way for people to live near those of the same ilk as themselves; to be close to those with whom they have the most in common.

Whether co-ops are seen as empowering and progressive or—as elitist and exclusionary— cooperative living helped build New York and America. Even so, the right to live around who you’d like to live around (while not guaranteed in the Constitution) seems to be a privilege enjoyed by the wealthy. Naturally, they exercise that right as anyone would, if given the chance. This is evidenced by the fact that the wealthiest people in the world are flocking to buy real estate here, especially luxury residences, a recent New York Times story reported.

“If you’re considering buying a residence in New York, you have to consider co-ops and condos,” says Carter B. Horsley, editorial director of CityRealty.com. “If you’re willing to accept a condo, you’ll have to accept an inferior location.”

Storied Histories

Still, a co-op is the type of community favored by folks in the city’s most prestigious addresses, and it appears this will be true for some time. The co-ops along Fifth and Park Avenues and Central Park West—those grand residential buildings have elegance and historical and architectural significance but they represent a lifestyle that is unique to New York, too. That style of living is so sought after that, even when the current real estate bubble bursts, those grand dame properties will remain unfazed and their high values intact. Not that it would matter since no one moves from those places, anyway. Or so it seems, to the uninitiated.

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