What it’s like as a parent to be part of an alternative urban community

Travel Tips

I found out about Seestern Aspern, an alternative urban community in Vienna, from Luiza Naderer-Puiu (28 years old), photographer and mother of a one year and a few months old girl. Luiza moved from Timișoara to Vienna at the age of 18, right after high school, to attend university in this city, along with about a third of her generation.

Currently, Luiza is part of the alternative housing project Seestern Aspernwhich we can at least consider interesting and innovative.

The project is the result of a collaboration between an NGO, a real estate developer and an architecture firm.

Personally, having been passionate about urban living, sustainable cities and alternative communities since college, this seemed like wow!

[Apropo, vă puteți descărca mai jos lucrarea mea de disertație pe tema locuirii alternative și a squaturilor în diverse orașe europene, pe care am realizat-o în 2006, la finalul Masterului de Antropologie și Dezvoltare Comunitară de la SNSPA].


The Seestern Aspern housing project has a pronounced size of social sustainability, being designed in such a way as to encourage and stimulate relations between neighbors, which make up a real community.

According to the statement on their website, in Seestern Aspern residents get to know each other in a participatory design process, thus laying the foundations for a active neighborhoods.

The Seestern Aspern housing project is composed of 27 residential units and a “co-working” space. Residents participated in the design of their own homes, alongside the architects.

“We are not a common housing project, but a social engine“, we learn from the initiative’s website.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project – one of the Seestern Aspern models.

Alternative urban community – a brief preview of the collaborative housing project Seestern Aspern.

Of course, Luiza’s story immediately piqued my interest, which is why I asked her to answer a few questions. You can see the result below.

How was the adjustment to a new city and a new life?

Although I had a privileged start, I would say, there were some culture shocks. It was hard for me at first to meet people and make friends among Austrians. And this is not because they are cold, as they say here, but because the channels to communicate and make friends here are different.

The faculty system was very open, so you rarely met the same person in two courses. And at work, people are used to not mixing their private and professional lives.

I think that wherever you move, even in the same country, you have a hard time when you realize that you lack a social network, friends, knowledge that can explain to you how the institutions work or what the unwritten rules are.

I had already met my then-boyfriend, now-husband, when we decided to look for housing, and we came across a co-housing project on the outskirts of Vienna.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project – Seestern Aspern.

Tell me about the community you live in.

The co-housing project where we live was initiated by a group of people interested in living together, based on common principles. What united them was the desire to no longer live anonymously in a big cityto know the neighbors well and to live with them in a united community, with common spaces and activities.

The initial group included people of different ages, occupations, and motivations. Some whose children have just moved out of the house, others single after a divorce, others with or without children.

All decisions related to the private apartments as well as the common spaces were taken together and then discussed with the architects.

Decisions were made through a method called Sociocraţiewhere each individual is encouraged to speak his mind and the decision is not taken by the absolute majority, but can only be taken when everyone agrees.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project – Seestern Aspern.

So there were many, many hours of work for 2 years. During that time we got to know each other very well and even formed a beautiful group.

Making sociocratic decisions together really unites a group because it forces you to listen and empathize with everyone’s needswhile leaving you at all times the maximum power to change or even block a decision.

The group kept growing. At the time we all got keys to the apartments, there were 6 homes with children’s rooms planned, but no children. In the first year, 2016, 5 couples announced that they would be having a baby within the year, with our last due in September.

Thus we, the 5 mothers, lived together the pregnancies, with the worries and rigorous questions, we were all happy when we found out the gender of each child, we looked for names together, we cooked together, we took turns learning from the problems that arose at the births of the others.

When we returned from the maternity hospital, we found gifts and pots of food in front of the door. In the shared kitchen we cooked together during maternity leave, first just for us, then for the diverse children as well. And then fathers, likewise, when they were on paternity leave.

Now the children are all between 1 and 2 years old, are in daycare and meet at the indoor playground.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project – Seestern Aspern.

How was it possible to create such a project?

It was important that Vienna City Hall made the land available and imposed conditions on the developer, especially regarding the affordability of rent costs for tenants. There was a competition, the association won the right to build and started looking for people willing to live together and organize.

They got in touch with an architectural office specializing in co-housing projects and collaborated with the construction company that committed to build within a certain budget.

In our case, the bank loan is the responsibility of the construction company and at least until it is paid, we only pay the rent. For us, it was one of the key reasons, not to pressurize the relationship through a bank loan in our name. Thus, we are also free to move at any time.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project – Seestern Aspern

What are the advantages for parents and children when living in an alternative urban community? What about the downsides?

The advantages are very great. I can’t imagine living any other way. Although almost no one in my group of friends has children, I never felt alone in the first year when I stayed home with the toddler. And now, when I pick him up from daycare for lunch, I write to the parents’ group and we meet either at the playground or in private homes.

Some of the children go to the same nursery school. Then we often eat together in the evening, two mothers with the children. If something urgent comes up, we leave each other’s children for an hour or two. In a few days I will try for the first time to sleep with a little girl from the neighbors, because her parents go to a concert.

I can’t imagine what it would be like without the support from home, especially since my parents are 500 km away and my husband’s parents 150. For us, it really is a kind of village where we raise our children.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project – Seestern Aspern.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project – Seestern Aspern.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project – Seestern Aspern.

If you ask about disadvantages: dthe enemy of the group in the house has suffered a little in that a quarter of the households have small children and so they can’t get involved as much as before. There was some resentment over this. So the downside would be that there is an indirect pressure to socialize and attend building and project management meetings.

And within the group of parents I would say that, probably as in any group, there is some comparison between the children and between the parents. And some minor differences in how to raise children, which can sometimes be a topic of discussion. But for sure the advantages are incomparably greater.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project – Seestern Aspern.

Alternative urban community and collaborative housing project shared workspace at Seestern Aspern.

Is Vienna a child friendly city? Why?

Absolute. I am very, very excited about Vienna, every day more and more. It goes without saying here that the infrastructure must be functional and accessible, so the public transport is of extraordinary perfection, in international comparison.

You practically don’t need a car in Vienna, you can get everywhere quickly with public transport, which is also very cheap. And escalators and elevators in every subway station, which you need when you have a baby in a stroller, are normal here.

For pre-school children there are nurseries, kindergartens and “daycares”, all paid for by the state and absolutely great.

For example, our one-year-old goes to a state nursery, without any special title, even barely visible from outside the building. 15 children between 1 and 3 years are cared for by 4 ladies (2 teachers, 2 nurses).

They eat breakfast, sing, dance, go out every day in the yard of the kindergarten, do some kind of “manual work” but, to my surprise, sometimes they also cook together. Then they all sleep for lunch. The teachers take pictures during the activities and display them in the locker room.

I was not a little surprised to see our one-year-old child, with a pacifier in her mouth and a mixer in her hand, mixing the dough for an apple strudel.

From Vienna.

What should a family with (small) children visit and do in Vienna?

There are many activities that can be done here with children, as a tourist: the zoo, hundreds of museums, theaters, beaches, but also walks on the Danube, or you can even go skiing near Vienna.

Our Dorothea (20 months) goes every Monday with her father to the natural history museum.

The technical museum is again highly recommended, they have a space for even smaller children.

The puppet theater Lilarium and the theater from Jungle Wien they are my favourites, I can’t wait to go.

Then we love going to Therme Wien on cold winter days. In the summer, we go to the zoo.

I really like the atmosphere in the old Viennese cafes, where after years of staying here I have learned to appreciate even the traditional arrogance of the waiters, as a momentary sincerity. Other areas I like are the Museums area in the Museum Quartier and anywhere along the Danube.

From Vienna.

From Vienna.

All the photos above are part of Luiza Puiu’s personal archive and cannot be reproduced without the author’s permission!

This text is part of a series of Kinder Trips materials that aim to promote various community initiatives, alternative lifestyles and communities.

Below you can access other materials from this series:



On Kinder Trips we write about traveling with children, education, urban exploration, communities and alternative lifestyles.

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