Want a Cool Retirement Home? Build it Yourself.

Trabensol 3

Although there are examples in the 1920s in New York, and similar concepts that date as far back as the 17th century, in Hakka walled villages in northern China, cohousing as a clearly defined idea originated in the 60’s in Denmark as an alternative to impersonal housing solutions and developments in modern cities. These communities were composed of private homes and supplemented by common facilities. There are hundreds of these communities in Denmark today and in other countries of northern Europe and more than 120 in the United States.

Trabensol 4

The concept is now being revisited in Spain. One experiment has just opened in Madrid. In the late 90’s a group of friends thought that it would be fantastic if they could all live together once they retired. By 2000 they already had about one hundred people on board and they created Trabensol (short for Trabajadores en SolidaridadWorkers in Solidarity), a cooperative. The project was meant to be a fun alternative to living in a typical retirement home.

Trabensol 1

After a long search that took them all over Spain they finally chose Torremocha del Jarama, a small town of only 917 residents, located 65 kilometers north of Madrid, that has had the same mayor -from an independent party- since 1979. The recently-finished 6,720m2 complex includes 54 apartments and spacious common areas for different activities. The new residents have already moved in and they invited the people from the village to visit the facilities. They have already registered in the town and in the medical center. The whole idea is to be able to take advantage of all the possibilities of living together and make decisions about their future, which seldom is the case in old age. They did not want to depend on a retirement system which is far from perfect.

Trabensol 2

In the group everything is decided democratically, and every single decision, from the choice of contruction company to the color of the walls was decided by vote. The total construction budget was 5 million euros, 3 of which were from a mortgage credit from ethical bank Fiare –a non profit unit of Italian Banca Popolare Etica. The rest came from their life savings or the sale of properties. Each one paid 145,000 euros to belong to the cooperative. This, however, does not mean you own anything, it just gives you the right to use the premises. If you leave the cooperative, you get your initial money back. If you die, your will determines what happens to that amount. The cost of maintaining the complex is covered by a monthly fee of about 850 euros per person, if living alone, or 1,050 if two people live in the same apartment. This includes food and services.

Trabensol 5

Everything has been designed to be sustainable. The complex has its own central square, orchard and greenhouse. It has areas devoted to therapeutic baths, library and video, meeting rooms, workshops and meditation/exercise rooms. The government of the Region of Madrid subsidized the project with 82,000 euros and energy giant Endesa awarded them a prize in sustainability as well.

Star architects don’t devote any of their time to thinking about the elderly and for many governments they are an afterthought, so this group of retirees decided to design and build the coolest of retirement homes themselves.

This is a documentary about Trabensol.

More info here:




Skateboarding Amid the Ruins of War

Skateistan - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro BocanegraSkateistan is an unconventional school in an unconventional place. What began in 2007 as informal skateboarding lessons by Australian Oliver Percovich in an empty fountain in Kabul is now, thanks to international donors and skateboard industry partners, an international non-profit which offers skateboarding and more traditional education to children in Afghanistan, Cambodia and Pakistan.

The staff is international and they work mostly with children aged 5-18, over 50% of them streetworking kids. Skateboarding is what gets them hooked into the program. Then, once in, they learn many other things. Apart from skating, the teachers also focus on leadership skills, civic responsibility, multimedia, creative arts and they also explore culture, traditions, natural resources and peace. The students decide what they want to learn.

Skateistan 5 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro Bocanegra

This skateboarding school, which now has more than 400 students and a 5,400m2 skatepark and educational facility,  is open to all ethnicities, religions and social classes. Streetworking children share classroom with sons of government ministers. The school has Pashtun, Hazara, Uzbek or Tajik children who, united by their love of skateboarding, create bonds here that trascend social barriers and learn that they are not that different from one another. Many of these kids come from extremely poor backgrounds, and this program provides these marginalized youths with opportunities, not only to meet other children from other cultures, but also empowers them to overcome adversity, teaching them self confidence. In a country devastated by several wars, having this common bond also brightens up their lives, gives them hope of a better future and gives them a voice. Here, kids can be kids.

Skateistan 2 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro Bocanegra

The school operates six days a week and provides all the skateboards and the safety equipment.  Most of its operating costs have been funded by the embassies of Denmark and Norway which also funded the construction of the Kabul facility, together with the embassies of Germany and Canada.  The German Federal Foreign Office constructed a second facility in Mazar-e-Sharif. Skateistan has numerous sponsors and partners from the skateboarding industry. They also receive donations and support from a network of international groups and volunteers.

Nancy Dupree, the director of the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, explains that children who have grown up in war, surrounded by negative attitudes towards compatriots of different ethnic and secular groups can now meet children from other backgrounds, compete and learn to play with one another, respectfully, “setting patterns for future harmonious interactions through life”.

Skateistan 6 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro Bocanegra

But this is a country still very much still grappling with violence. On September 8th, a suicide attack in Kabul resulted in the deaths of several children, four of which were students of the academy. The bomb was detonated outside the International Security Assistance Force headquarters, where many of the streetworking children of Kabul sell trinkets, scarves and chewing gum

Skateistan 4 - Babyshark's Minority Report - Alejandro BocanegraOne of the most remarkable aspects of Skateistan is that 40% of students are girls, many of them having to go against the wishes of members of their families, who don’t approve this kind of activity for girls. The school promotes gender equality in one of the most gender-biased societies in the world. But amid the ruins of war…they skate on.

This is a short documentary on Skateistan:

To donate to Skateistan to their website.