Zipcar, Car2Go and Bixi Bike have revolutionized urban mobility. Airbnb has redefined how travelers view accommodation. Kickstarter has made it easier for new companies to obtain financing. These organizations all share one thing in common: they are part of a new economy, one that prioritizes sharing of assets over sole ownership. The sharing economy is built on networks of connected individuals and communities as opposed to centralized institutions. This new structure has revolutionized how societies consume, produce, finance and learn. The growth in the shared economy is attributable to technological improvements that have reduced barriers to entry such as trust and transparency.
On February 11th 2014 Evergreen CityWorks was honored to host April Rinne, an expert on the sharing economy. Her visit was part of a national tour organized by the McConnell Family Foundation to launch the Cities for People initiative. This national initiative is geared towards creating more resilient and more livable cities by scaling ideas, experiments and projects that are bigger than the sum of their individual parts. Rinne’s expertise and knowledge helped Cities for People explore one of its core themes- new economies.
Rinne began her presentation by highlighting that sharing goods, services and space has always been apart of urban environments. Libraries, community centres and civic structures are the foundations on which cities are built. Today, the ability to share has never been easier thanks to technology. The Internet and mobile technology empowers businesses and individuals to explore, discover and take part in the shared economy. It is also facilitating non-economic benefits. Many platforms have fostered a sense of community that did not previously exist. Artscape provides unique multi-tenant facilities to creative practitioners and entrepreneurs; Toronto Tool Library loans specialized tools to community members interested in repair, maintenance and building projects and Not Far From the Tree takes excess supply of Toronto’s fruit and gives it to local food banks.
The sharing economy provides Canadian cities with an opportunity to become more resourceful and less wasteful while cultivating a new sense of community. It is time to think about how cities can make use of its idle assets. Readjusting the way we think about the functionality of public buildings, excess sidewalk space or unused office, hotel and parking space presents new opportunities. In order to cultivate these unrealized potential governments particularly municipalities should be the greatest champions of the sharing economy. By creating incentives, leading by example and lowering barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and city-builders, we can co-design our urban environments to become rich economic vibrancy, community dynamics and offer a higher quality of life.