A City Shared…

The term ‘sharing city’ is being adopted by a growing number of location across the world.  However, understanding what this means and looks like can be difficult. The phrase seems mean different things to different people and it as if there is an overlap between what makes a ‘sharing city’, a ‘smart city’ or a ‘sustainable city’.

So, what is a Sharing City?   In general, it must mean where “individuals or entities exchange with others the untapped “surplus” or “idle” capacity of their assets, typically for some type of payment or service.”  So, a Sharing City for me is one that embraces this philosophy of a sharing economy, one that is a community led initiative that helps unlock under used or under values assets.

Rather than corporations trying to come up with or sell solutions to problems they think people have, or governments distributing local assets from a national POV this is communities identifying their needs and assets and working collaboratively to create opportunities and embrace potential and solve problems.

 At the end of last year, I was lucky enough to meet up with Harmen van Sprang, co-founder of the Sharing Cities Alliance while in Amsterdam for the Light Festival and heard first-hand how the concept was developing across the world.

The first sharing city was Seoul in 2012, followed by Amsterdam in 2015.  Since then dozens of cities have expressed their interests in the idea of a becoming sharing city; a city that wants to maximise the social, economic and environmental opportunities of the sharing economy.

City-to-city learning between cities in this field started with a roundtable in Amsterdam, May 2016.  At a Summit in New York (May 2017) the Sharing Cities Alliance was officially launched. The Huffington Post summarised the alliance as: “cities building a global answer to a global phenomenon.”  Actually, I think “Global” is a bit misleading as, for me, it’s small scale individual or community led ideas, initiatives and assets combining to make a globally significant force.

On the positive side, the sharing of goods and services among citizens and local businesses benefits the local economy, improves social cohesion and boosts sustainability where it’s done well.

Transport is one of the early front runner in “shared” resources, with ideas like uber and Deliveroo, and is still at the forefront of the movement’s development.  I’ve recently been consulted on a new idea.  The last mile delivery of small parcels, to be delivered on electric bikes.  It might not sound big but this idea sidesteps restrictions on delivery times and parking in city centres as well as congestion and the emissions created. It also embraces and encourages the improvement in cycle lanes as an opportunity.

In the course of just a few years, the sharing economy has progressed from a few scrappy start-ups to an industry of mega-companies worth billions of dollars. Most of these global, platform-based businesses, only really work in cities.  There are exceptions such as Airbnb.  However, there are some questions to be asked about how this might impact on things like the tax base or health and safety and other regulation that is there for a reason.  It is an issue that the private sector often moves much faster than the public sector can keep up. Just look at business rates!

If this interests you, for more background reading a good place to start is The World Economic Forum’s Future of Urban Development and Services Initiative, which has released its new whitepaper on Collaboration in Cities: From Sharing to ‘Sharing Economy’ . This report demystifies the new sharing economy vocabulary, explains key drivers for sharing, and the opportunities for cities to engage and drive sharing practices. It also explores how cities can leverage the potential of the sharing economy in use of municipal goods, spaces, and civic assets such as the talents and skills of city residents.

Do let me know your experiences in a “shared economy” and leave a comment at http://martinblackwell.co.uk/blog/

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