In resource- and space-constrained cities, the old adage "sharing is caring" stands out as an answer to urban problems. And savvy entrepreneurs are taking note.
The "sharing economy," or whatever cute phrase you prefer ("collaborative consumption" is also being bandied about), is becoming a bit of a niche in cities, allowing for typically owned goods and services to be shared. Indeed, according to recent research by the Knight Foundation, peer-to-peer sharing in cities has grown by 36 percent per year, between 2009 and 2012.
If you're still not clear on what types of services would fall into this category, some standard examples include bike-share programs; co-working facilities; room-renting services like Airbnb; and ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber (see video on the latter below). But the sharing economy expands beyond these as well. There are food co-ops and community gardens; there are even community laundry services like Wash Cycle Laundry in Philadelphia, which allows users to organize laundry pickups through a smartphone and hires "vulnerable adults" -- such as former inmates, and adults in rehab -- to ride out on bicycles to retrieve and deliver the clothes.
It shouldn't be a surprise that people are moving away from owned goods and services and toward a shared model. Recent years have been marked by a global recession, the rise of the mobile and social web, and a period of rapid urbanization and, therefore, densification. People now have less financial security, less time, less space, and more autonomy.
Mike Zuckerman, founder of [freespace], told us recently that cities have always been platforms for sharing. Think of public transportation, or shared utilities in buildings, for example.
Plus, sharing of some form has always existed: Libraries, anyone?
The difference now is that, thanks to the Internet, many of these new shared services are being driven and controlled by individuals and startups, rather than local governments and municipalities. That allows the sharing economy to expand, but it also creates tension with entrenched businesses and interests. Both Airbnb and Uber have faced legal battles in New York City, for example.
However, rather than fear and fight this rise of new business models and methods of consumption, cities would do well to take notice of the trend toward leasing rather than owning, and use it to their advantage.
One city doing this is Seoul, South Korea, through a program called "Sharing City" that launched last September. Seoul sees this program as a way to maximize its own resources while encouraging sharing amongst citizens. It is doing this in a number of ways, including giving its official stamp of approval to particular services; distributing 250 million won (or US$240,000) to select sharing startups; and acting as a sharing startup incubator -- to name a few. The city is also working on providing its own car-sharing service and allowing for the use of idle municipal buildings and government parking lots.
The sharing economy is already finding its home in Seoul, with such services as Woozoo, which fixes up old houses and turns them into shared living spaces; and The Open Closet, which provides shared suits for young professionals seeking jobs.
Forward-thinking cities should take note of Seoul's efforts and attitude. They should act both as advocates of the sharing economy, as well as players in it by offering their own services whenever possible (bike-share is a great example). Handing power down to the citizens to decide how, when, and where they want to consume, and what they're willing to share, can be a great way for cities to conserve spending and allow for new job creation. It can also be a great way for cities to present themselves as innovative and adaptable, and therefore attract new talent and businesses.
We've already learned that building communities is key to making cities resilient in the face of danger and disaster. What better way to build community is there than to encourage sharing amongst citizens?
— Nicole Ferraro, Editor in Chief, UBM's Future Cities