How to leverage the potential of the ‘sharing economy’

11th January 2018 Barbara Szewcow, Jonathan Andrews

The World Economic Forum has released a white paper, Collaboration in Cities: From Sharing to ‘Sharing Economy, identifying and answering key questions for cities about the sharing economy.

The paper explores opportunities and challenges of the sharing economy by highlighting examples and solutions from cities around the world, including Seattle, London, New York, Melbourne, São Paulo, Kigali, Seoul, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Kamaishi.

“City governments have institutionalised sharing economy practices in many different ways,” Cheryl Martin, Head of Industries, Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum, told Cities Today. “While sharing may often decrease the cost of access, it also has the potential to address long-term societal challenges such as making cities more inclusive and building social connections between groups that might otherwise never have interacted. In experimenting with sharing practices, however, cities will also have to be agile in addressing externalities and disruption to their planning processes, policy formulation and regulatory structures.”

Seoul is highlighted for establishing itself as the first sharing city in the world with car-pooling, public bicycles, parking lots and children’s clothing sharing services. The city provides administrative and financial support to its 25 autonomous districts’ own sharing-promotion projects.

Bologna, with more than 180 collaboration pacts, “has been increasingly encouraging the creation of community cooperatives, neighbourhood foundations, and block level consortia, and providing the required assistance when needed for the care and regeneration of urban assets,” remarked Martin.

Seattle provides affordable access to tools and other items through libraries of things while Barcelona’s 28 community time banks give an opportunity for time exchange between citizens as currency for everyday tasks.

The paper makes the case that sharing in cities can have a transformative impact–boosting the economy and nurturing a sense of community.

“The popularity of smartphones, lower data costs and high population density in cities facilitate the use of sharing platforms, which can scale up quickly with the right business model,” noted Julie Ziskind, Project Lead, Future of Urban Development and Services at the World Economic Forum. “The multitude of resources concentrated in urban areas also create ideal conditions for monetising idle or excess capacity, skills contracting, and optimising the match between supply and demand.”

Hazem Galal, Global Cities and Local Government Sector Leader at PwC, noted that cities are also engaged in providing shared municipal services and access to the skills and talent of city residents. He said: “The state of Alberta, Canada has an inter-municipal collaboration framework that comes into effect this year to facilitate neighbouring municipalities managing service delivery and optimising resource use.”

Governments and legislative bodies are also facing challenges in regulating new business models based on sharing. Concerns related to safety and security, social equality and equity, and trust need to be addressed.

The paper’s authors note that while the sharing economy has brought about disruptive changes, the remaining key challenge is for sharing companies–as technology platforms where exchange of goods and services is conducted between independent parties–to adhere to often outdated laws regarding liability and tax jurisdictions.

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