Are smart cities also sharing cities?

Aside from smart and resilient, a growing number of cities is wielding the adjectieve sharing. Seoul was in 2013 the first self-appointed Sharing City in the world. In 2015 Amsterdam claimed to be the first one in Europe. 

San Francisco

However, the most eyecatching initiatives with respect to sharing originate from one city in particular – San Francisco – the hometown of sharing-oriented start-ups like Twitter, Dropbox, Lyft and Airbnb. A sharing aptitide is characterizing the life style of many of its millennial population: co-working, co-living (also due to sky-rocketing rents), eschewing car-ownership and a preference for living in the city center.

The San Francisco brand of ‘sharing’ is commercial in the first place and has beside winners also many losers, for instance the drivers of companies like Uber and Lyft and those in other taxi-companies. The unprecedented influx of tourists in cities like Amsterdam and Barcelona due to the succes of one of the sharing economy icons, Airbnb, also will not contribute to its popularity.

For this reason Duncan McLaren & Julian Agyeman plea for a brand of real sharing cities, based on just sustainabilities. In their seminal book Sharing cities’ (MIT Press, 2015) they elaborate examples from Seoul, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Medellin to clarify a more inclusive communal sharing paradigm that goes beyond commercial motives. Real sharing cities relate questions with respect to social needs and welfare – economic opportunity included – to social justice and environmental limits imposed by supporting ecosystems.

sharing cities

Summing up, sharing means that more persons use the same product or service without owning it. This can apply to the (re)use of bikes, cars, appartments of books. But the sharing paradigm includes also includes recycling, common facilities for water and energy, credit unions and cooperative banks. Sharing might be motivated by cost reduction by social justice or by decreasing our ecological footprint.

Seoul

Communal sharing is connected with the sources of wellbeing: Fresh air, water, energy, education, cure and care, socializing, inclusion and liveable space. The city of Seoul offers many examples in this respect. The concept of jeong plays a key role. People believe that being kind and cooperative will benefit all in the long term. More specific, the administration of the city is promoting and supporting collaboration and caretaking in the densely populated apartment blocks. At the same time mayor and eldermen value listening to the inhabitants. People can easily utter complaints and requests talking in the ‘listening ear’ in front of the town hall (photo below).

sharing cities

The city administration also plays an intermediate role in the economic development. Start-ups are supported by the ‘Dreambank’, a pooled facility of 20 banks.

Medellin

Other cities offer additional insight in the intermediate role of city government to enhance the ‘sharing potential’ of their towns. An striking example is Medellin, the second town in Colombia and the former center of drug trafficking, also known as ‘murder capita’ of the world. After that military shot the infamous gangleader Pablo Escobar, the city government started to repair the ruined social fabric of the town. It invested large sums in education and communal facilities, often in iconic buildings like the Biblioteca de Espagna in the middle of poor areas, to enable their inhabitants regaining some feeling of proudness.

sharing cities

At the same time all isolated parts of the town were connected by a new public transport system of metrolines, gondolas and escalators. Participatory budgetting was introduced an instrument to increase citizen involvement.

Copenhagen and Amsterdam

McLaren & Agyeman also feature Copenhagen and Amsterdam as examples of ‘social urbanism’, because these city’s sharing policies are community motivated in the first place. Copenhagen has improved the liveabllity of its city center with an infrastructure based on the use of bicycles. Amsterdam did the same with its dense public transport network and creating bikelanes as well. In addition Amsterdam’s social housing policy has accomplished more integration of its immigrant population than many other cities. The city also facilitates a huge number of ‘commoning’ activities.

sharing cities

Reflecting upon the cases above, a couple of concepts demand clarification.

Collaboration

Collaboration is used often as an equivalent for sharing. This is not necessary true. Collaboration refers to collective action to get things done; sharing usually involves individual action. Collaboration happens in the economic domain – for instance cooperative work, self-managed companies and community currences and in the social domain as well, for instance commoning activities like gardening, cooking, the exploitation of collective housing, community shops and even swimming pools and transport. Apart from the direct benefits of collaboration, its value is also the growth of social capital. As a consequence, collaboration is a necessary extension of the concept of sharing.

Mediation

Commercial sharing depends heavily from the availability of IT-platforms, think of Airbnb and Uber. But connectivity is also critical for certain social forms ‘sharing’, for instance instaneous mapping of damage in case of earthquakes or flooding in order to support rescuing activities.

Sharing versus smart

Sharing and smart are not equivalents; however accentuating its sharing capacity, might be a way to for smart cities to be more specific about its characteristics. My description of Smart City 3.0 includes many characteristics of the sharing city that are described above.

Amsterdam is profiling itself for some years as a smart city. Recently, the city also embraced the adjectives ‘sharing’ and ‘collaborative’. I doubt the wisdom of this policy. The content of the missions of Amsterdam Smart City and Amsterdam Sharing city do not differ that much. Therefore applying two adjectives is confusing, given that most citizens still have to become acquaintant with the benefits and challenges of living in a smart city. From a communication viewpoint, I would have chosen to clarify being smart with a small number of key words. Sharing might be one of these. My choice of the other ones would have been: citizen-based, inclusive, entrepreneurial, collaborative, sustainable and IT-enabled. Maybe my advise is still useful.

*) This article was brought to you by Professor Herman van den Bosch, Professor at Open University of The Netherlands.

Herman van den Bosch

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