Build a Sharing Community to Unlock the Power of Cities

Reader Contribution by Cat Johnson
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The sharing economy is moving into the mainstream. Sharing innovations old and new such as cooperatives, Sidecar, Airbnb, RelayRides and bike-sharing programs are on the rise and show that sharing resources is good for cities.

With their population density, public spaces, and vast social networks, cities are already ideal platforms for sharing. Sharing innovations promise to take cities to the next level by democratizing access to goods and services, connecting neighbors in mutually beneficial ways, and reducing waste. In the process, urban economies could become more innovative, resilient and democratic.

Some cities, including San Francisco and Seoul, are positioning themselves as global leaders in the sharing

movement. But many municipalities are saddled with dated legislation and low awareness of the ways that sharing can transform cities for the better. Policies that prevent the sharing of vehicles and homes, or the selling of locally-grown or handmade foods, need to be re-examined. As Shareable co-founder Neal Gorenflo says, “New policies are needed to unlock the 21st century power of cities as engines of freedom, innovation and shared prosperity.”

Recently, Shareable, a leading voice of the sharing movement, partnered with the Sustainable Economies Law Center on a report titled and Policies for Shareable Cities: a Sharing Economy Policy Primer for Urban Leaders. Designed with city officials in mind, the primer includes input from “dozens of leaders from the worlds of law, government, urban planning, business, and alternative economics.” It provides policy recommendation, insights into the importance of integrating sharing programs, and examples of cities that have the recommended services in place.

Below are the key areas the report covers along with some of the recommendations for integrating the various sharing programs into city policy.

Shareable Transportation

Car-sharing, ride-sharing and bikes-sharing programs are all viable ways to increase transportation efficiency in cities. Primer recommendations include designating parking spaces for carsharing vehicles; incorporating car-sharing programs in new, multi-unit developments; allowing residential parking spot leasing for car-sharing; applying more appropriate local taxes on car-sharing; creating economic incentives for ridesharing; designating ridesharing pick-up spots and park-and-ride lots; creating a Guaranteed Ride Home program; and adopting a city-wide public bikesharing program.

Food and the Sharing Economy

When it comes to food, the sharing economy prioritizes local, sustainable and fresh. Through community gardens, home-based food enterprises, mobile food vending, shared kitchens and more, food becomes a way to live a healthier, more connected life. Primer recommendations for food include allowing urban agriculture and neighborhood produce sales; providing financial incentives to encourage urban agriculture on vacant lots; allowing parks and other public spaces to be used for food sharing; creating food gleaning programs to reroute some of the 40% of our food that gets thrown away; and creating or subsidizing shared commercial kitchens.

Shareable Housing

Housing density is a good way to cut down on resource use, strengthen community and make efficient use of limited space. Policy recommendations for creating shareable housing include supporting the development of cooperative housing; reducing the fees and simplifying the permitting processes for adding new units to existing homes; encouraging the development of small apartments and “tiny homes”; allowing short-term rentals in residential areas; amending or removing any zoning laws that restrict co-habitation; establishing zoning ordinances that enable the creation of cohousing and eco-villages; and factoring sharing into the design of new developments.

Job Creation and the Sharing Economy

As the report states, the sharing economy offers enormous potential to create jobs. By increasing access to resources and lowering barriers for small businesses to enter the market, cities can keep jobs within the community. And, jobs within the sharing sector tend to offer fair pay, increased self-worth and more opportunities for creativity. Primer recommendations for creating jobs within the sharing sector include allowing home occupations to include sharing economy enterprises; reducing permitting barriers to enterprises that create locally-controlled jobs and wealth; using idle commercial spaces for community benefit; assisting cooperatives through city economic development departments; making grants to incubate new cooperatives; providing financial and in-kind resources to cooperatives; procuring goods and services from cooperatives; and integrating cooperative education into public education programs.

Get Involved with Sharing Culture

As people learn about, and participate in, the shareable cities movement, it grows stronger and more widespread. So get involved, join the conversation on Shareable, share the primer on social media with the hashtag #PFSC, share your observations, critiques and ideas, and advocate for sharing policies in your city, sign up for the Shareable and SELC newsletters. As the primer states, “…you’ll join a growing number of people working to democratize urban economies around the world.”