Shareable Cities: The power of the collaborative economy

Imagine a shareable city. What does it look like? Or are you asking: “What is a shareable city?” 
 
c/o @RedefiningTO

c/o @RedefiningTO

The concept of shareable cities is a compelling interest of Cities for People, a new Canada-wide initiative that launched this month and is designed to make our cities more resilient. This month, Cities for People and Social Innovation Generation (SiG) co-hosted a national speaking tour featuring April Rinne, chief strategy officer of Collaborative Lab, and her approach to building shareable cities.

On February 11, April made her Toronto stop at MaRS in partnership with MaRS Global Leadership and SiG’s Inspiring Action for Social Impact Series. Her message was poignant and clear: opportunities abound to build more shareable and sustainable cities through the collaborative economy.

It’s time to seize these opportunities by “connecting dots, catalyzing ideas and building networks.”

(Dot 1) Learn

We must explore and engage in the collaborative economy, the space where the capacities, ideas, businesses, actions and policies for building resilient cities are fermenting and scaling. The collaborative economy includes all types of collaborative practice:

  • collaborative consumption (like Airbnb);
  • collaborative production (like the Maker Movement);
  • collaborative financing (like Crowdfunding); and
  • collaborative learning (like Moodle).
(Dot 2) Embrace the shift

These practices leverage a major values shift from the burdens of ownership to the value of access that enables and requires a reimagining of our lifestyles, communities and marketplaces.

c/o @rwr3peat

c/o @rwr3peat

(Dot 3) It’s all about sharing

Valuing access prompts sharing assets and finding opportunities in idle capacity: all of our possessions (commercial or personal) that are underused or locked up by our proprietary ideals. Sharing unlocks wealth and value for our communities and ourselves, creating a sharing economy based on using existing assets more sustainably.

(Dot 4) Connect needs with haves

When we think about how to match what we already have to what someone else needs more efficiently, new marketplaces and community connections are born and for innumerable reasons.

  • Savings and sustainability: An average car costs more than $700 per month, yet sits idle 23 hours a day. Why not create access to a pool of cars, optimizing their use and reducing costs and wasted resources? Enter Zipcar.
  • Exercise and community: Channel your passion for running to benefit your community by running to someone’s house to help them out – they call it GoodGym.
  • Pet therapy and animal rights: Pets are left at home for hours during the day, while plenty of people want to play with or take care of your pet. What if you could connect? Yes, please BorrowMyDoggy.

(Dot 5) Know the drivers

What’s common to these examples is their technology-enabled scale and scope, the defining characteristic of the collaborative economy. Three other key drivers are fuelling and powering this transformative trend:

  1. A great power and trust shift away from centralized institutions toward networks of individuals and a human-centred peer revolution.
  2. Economic realities remind us that “business as usual” can no longer be the status quo.
  3. Environmental pressures and population growth demand that we transform how we see our habits, our businesses and our communities.
( )Connecting the dots( ): Powering a sustainable future and shareable cities
c/o @Lewwwk

c/o @Lewwwk

Collaborative platforms reimagine how we approach sustainability by transforming existing value chains and inspiring us to see abundance and opportunity, instead of scarcity, in the untapped capacity all around us. Cities can become meaningful enablers of the collaborative economy and platforms for sharing themselves, unlocking idle capacity at city hall and on our city streets. Municipal governments must jump in as regulators and service providers and consider the following questions: How can we enable these collaborative economy innovations? How are they helping us to transform our service provision for communities? Who aren’t we reaching?

These are the types of questions that Cities for People and April Rinne intend to provoke and help answer. You can watch her lecture in full below.

How shareable can we be?
  • The top 10 ways cities can become more shareable
  • See what’s happening in the Toronto collaborative economy: check out the Toronto Sharing Map

This post was originally published on the MaRS Blog on February 28th, 2014. 

The Sharing Economy: It’s more than we think

do you like to share-There is a good chance that you’ve heard about “The Sharing Economy”.  It’s drawing attention because of innovations such as peer-to-peer sharing among neighbours including tool libraries and business-to-consumer enterprises including AirBnB.  Instead of keeping our focus here, we can widen our view and find an entire universe of social innovations.  These innovations have the potential to connect us to each other, lessen our impact on the Earth, and experiment with new business models.

Sharing has always been a part of city life including through libraries, community spaces, guilds, and civic structures. In the past decade, there has been a revival and acceleration in sharing innovations across sectors from mobility (Bixie Bikes, Coop Cars) to accommodation (AirBnB, coachsurfing) to skills (TaskRabbit). Businesses are sharing idle supply chain capacity and joining forces in collective institutional purchasing, and community-based grassroots innovators are creating neighbourhood community time banks and clothing swaps.

“Sharing cars, books, tools can also be expanded to shared, community-owned energy; shared 3D printing facilities; and communal office spaces. Shared ideas, green space, seeds, air, and water have been with us since we set foot on the earth but need protecting.”
– Mike Childs1

“The sharing economy can be manifest in almost every sector of society and corner of the globe. Sectors which have experienced robust traction and interest include accommodation, transportation, tourism, office space, financial services and retail products. Areas where significant growth is expected include [peer to peer] P2P car sharing, ridesharing, errand marketplaces, P2P and social lending, and product rental.”
– Young Global Leaders Sharing Economy Working Group2

Also known as collaborative consumption and the collaborative economy, the Sharing Economy is the bartering, exchanging, sharing, renting, trading, borrowing, lending, leasing and swapping of goods, services, time, capital, experiences and space by individuals, institutions, businesses and communities.  This is all being supported by new mobile and digital technologies and online platforms that redistribute and enable transactions based on trust and reciprocity. It is motivated by the realities of the economic crisis and financial hardship, growing urbanization, resource and energy constraints, and inequitable access to resources.3

swap_peers

Clothing swap hosted by sharing community, peers.org

There are opportunities to unlock idling capacity – the untapped social, economic, and environmental value of underutilized assets.  For some this is heralded as indicative of a changing relationship with material possessions and a rejection of mass consumption through a shift from ownership to access; however, others question whether the mainstream is willing to make this shift. What we do know is that when a community shares more, it consumes less material and energy.  The purchase of one 10 pound circular saw at the Vancouver Tool Library is estimated to have prevented up to 320 pounds of waste.  Although as Rachel Botsman notes, the Sharing Economy Lacks A Shared Definition, its promise lies in the possibility of reductions and more efficient use of resources and untapped and idle capacities, opportunities for local and inclusive economies, and greater social connectivity and trust.

Though the Sharing Economy holds much promise for creating social innovations, it’s important to consider who is benefitting from these new models of sharing. The successful growth of sharing businesses like Airbnb and Lyft clearly indicate the economic value of the movement. What is less understood is the social benefits that are created by the Sharing Economy for vulnerable populations. One of the greatest aspirations of the Collaborative Economy is to form a more inclusive society. Monitoring the impacts of sharing on low-income groups can help realize this vision.

An Expanding Universe of Sharing

 “‘Sharing and shareability’ are typically too narrowly conceived and perceived. The opportunity is so much greater than middle-class ‘swishing’ and even though urban bike-sharing schemes have dominated news in this space, whether in London, Copenhagen, Paris or Montreal, or Rio, Guadalajara (México), Buenos Aires, or Providencia (Chile), sharing is definitely about much more than ‘bums on bikes.’”
– Julian Agyeman, Duncan McLaren and Adrianne Schaefer-Borrego4

We are missing some key aspects of the Collaborative and the Sharing Economy such as business to business sharing, informal sharing among immigrant, isolated or marginalized communities, and activities in unexpected sectors such as within the arts.

So how can we widen our view?  We can explore the what, who and how of the sharing economy:

  • WHAT

    The universe of sharing crosses many areas of our lives including transportation, food, space, funding, and goods.  It’s quite different if we are sharing things (books, cars, art), services (rides, child care, time) or experiences (skill sharing). There are also varying types of ownership – some sharing innovations are public, some private and others are cooperative.

  • WHO

    Most attention has been on individual peer-to-peer sharing (e.g., bartering networks like Swapsity.ca) and business to consumer enterprises (e.g., Zipcar).  Sharing is also taking place among businesses (e.g., Liquidspace and horizontal collaboration across supply chains) and within communities (e.g., Tool Libraries, Cooperatives). We can also explore the diversity of networks emerging to support sharing innovators (Shareable.net, Collaborative Lab, Peers).

  • HOW

    The way we share also varies from money exchanges to non-monetized transactions, formal and informal innovations, and socially connected and more impersonal interactions.

By broadening our definition, it is possible to spark entrepreneurship and social innovation, to anticipate negative reactions and impacts, and to create a more nuanced and vibrant understanding of the Sharing Economy.  This, in turn, can guide the development of pilots, activities and supportive structures and policies.

From 10 – 14 February, I’m traveling with April Rinne, Chief Strategy Officer, Collaborative Lab and Tim Draimin, Executive Director, SiG National across Canada on a collaborative economy tour, co-sponsored by SiG and Cities for People.  Join in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver and tell us how you see the Sharing Economy!

 


1 Mike Childs (2013) The Power of Sharing: A Call to Action for Environmentalists. 5 November.

2 Young Global Leaders Working Group (2013) Circular Economy Innovation and New Business Models Initiative. Position Paper: World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders Taskforce.

3 Resources: Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers (2012) What’s Mine is Yours; Lisa Gansky (2010) The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing; The Sharing Project Bryan Walsh 10 Ideas That Will Change the World: Today’s Smart Choice: Don’t Own. Share. Time Magazine, 17 March 2011. http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2059521_2059717_2059710,00.html

4 Julian Agyeman, Duncan McLaren and Adrianne Schaefer-Borrego (2013) Briefing: Sharing Cities. Written for Friends of the Earth’s “Big Ideas” project, September.