Cities are built for sharing. It's what makes cities engines of prosperity, innovation, and cultural exchange. Well connected cities have the unique capacity to raise per capita production and innovation while using dramatically less energy. For this reason, cities may be our best hope for achieving widespread prosperity within the earth's natural limits.
Today, new circumstances have created an unprecedented opportunity to amplify cities as platforms for sharing. People are already acting on this opportunity. Driven by economic need and empowered by new technologies, they're creating new, more resilient ways of providing food, jobs, housing, goods, and transportation for themselves and each other in cities.
This is the sharing economy. It is characterized by an explosion of practices such as carsharing, ridesharing, cooperatives, community farms, shared housing, shared workspaces, and a multitude of new micro-enterprises made possible by platforms that connect supply and demand at the peer-to-peer level.
This marks a significant departure from the ways that Americans have met their material needs over the last century. For example, instead of buying cars – and using valuable city space to park them– people are sharing cars, thereby reducing burdens on citizens, city infrastructure, and the environment. Instead of relying upon emergency rooms, preventative eldercare can be delivered through a peer-to-peer marketplace or a time dollar program. Instead of using hotels when traveling, they are choosing to stay in the homes of private citizens through the use of peer accommodation markets.
The sharing economy has deep implications for how cities design urban spaces, create jobs, reduce crime, manage transportation, and provide for citizens. As such, the sharing economy also has deep implications for policy making. The sharing economy challenges core assumptions made in 20th century planning and regulatory frameworks – namely, that residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural activities should be physically separated from one other, and that each single family household operates as an independent economic unit. The sharing economy brings people and their work back together through sharing, gifting, bartering, and peer-to-peer buying and selling. City governments can increasingly step into the role of facilitators of the sharing economy by designing infrastructure, services, incentives, and regulations that factor in the social exchanges of this game changing movement.
We believe that fostering the growth of the sharing economy is the single most important thing that city governments can do to boost prosperity and resilience in times of economic crisis and climate change. This is a guide for urban policy makers and planners who want the best for their cities.
Authors: Yassi Eskandari-Qajar and Neal Gorenflo