If you're a Londoner, it’s pretty likely that you will have used a sharing economy business. From driving a Zipcar or hiring a local Hassle.com cleaner, to staying in Love Home Swap apartments around the world, we are increasingly confident using sharing economy services. But there are cities around the world – Amsterdam, Seoul and Victoria, to name but a few – that go one step further. These cities are building “sharing” into their DNA, encouraging residents to share as part of their everyday lives. They are also the inspiration behind the “sharing pilots” kicking off in Leeds and Manchester. So what exactly is a “sharing city”, and could London ever become one?
The concept is a nascent one, but generally these are communities in which resources – transport, accommodation, possessions and skills – are easily shared on networks accessed by residents and local businesses. The origins of the sharing city are said to lie in Scandinavian culture, with the launch of co-housing communities in Copenhagen in the 1970s. These neighbourhoods allowed families to live separately, while also encouraging interaction and the sharing of resources. The model has been found to encourage team work and greater community spirit, while also reducing residents’ consumption and expenditure by sharing ownership of items.
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If Copenhagen is the pre-internet model, then Seoul in South Korea is the blueprint for a modern sharing city. Here, government launched Share Hub, an online directory of services across the country, which encourage the sharing of time, space, talents, goods and information. This is a great illustration of the way in which a sharing city goes that step further: it’s not enough to have sharing services available – authorities also need to actively encourage residents to participate.
Share Hub will likely have been an inspiration behind the UK sharing pilots announced by the chancellor in the 2015 Spring Budget. In Leeds, the experiment will focus on transport, with local car clubs and bike-sharing available on a transport app, alongside buses, trains and taxis. Local authorities are also exploring a council-run platform to allow residents to share equipment, like vans or lawnmowers, and skills. In Manchester, sharing economy services will be applied to health and social care, developing community assets, then utilising technology to better connect residents to these services via community hubs.
So would such a model work in London? My instinct is yes. Londoners are leading the way in the UK’s adoption of the sharing economy already, with Airbnb, JustPark and TaskRabbit becoming household names across the capital. There are still changes to be made: regulation needs to be adapted to better embrace alternative business models, and we still have work to do building consumer confidence in sharing products. But the popularity of these businesses illustrates a wider appetite for new models of ownership and community. Leeds and Manchester are leading the way, but it may not be long before London follows.