Sharing Cities at the 1st International Workshop on the Sharing Economy

This is an early presentation of our Sharing City project at the first International Workshop on the Sharing Economy (Utrecht, 2015)

 

Lancaster as a sharing city: an interdisciplinary exploration and thought experiment

Serena Pollastri, Rachel Cooper, Chris Boyko, Stephen Clune, Claire Coulton, Nick Dunn

ImaginationLancaster, Lancaster University.

 

This paper presents an ongoing study that is being conducted jointly by Lancaster University, University of Birmingham, University of Southampton, and University College of London as part of the Liveable Cities programme.

Liveable Cities is a five-year interdisciplinary research programme aimed at developing guidelines to implement radical solutions for low-carbon, resource-secure UK cities that prioritise societal wellbeing and aspirations.

Sharing City is the first of a series of seven cross-disciplinary themes that bring together the research teams involved in Liveable Cities in localized thought experiments aimed at developing scenarios of desirable and provocative urban futures in the form of social conversations, policy recommendations, and prototypes.

Although the term Sharing Economy has only recently grown in popularity, literature indicates sharing as an essential component of cities. The city itself is a complex product of shared creation and/or co-production. Sharing in cities was and is needed to maintain the environment, support the civic society, sustain the economy, and promote individual and community wellbeing.

Despite the quality, safety, and accessibility of most essential infrastructures and services of our cities (e.g. energy and water networks, libraries, roads) depending on them being shared, we are experiencing increasing privatisation and commercialisation of many resources that were public. Moreover, particularly in wealthier societies, the crisis of urban commons might contribute to an increase in the social value and importance of owning goods and resources to fulfil everyday needs.

We define Sharing Cities as cities where individualistic consumption of resources and ideologies are valued less than those that emphasise the collective benefit to citizens and other stakeholders. A Sharing City is more than simply a city in which models of Sharing Economy become mainstream. It is a city that needs to rethink its infrastructure, spaces, services, and governance. A number of questions need to be asked:

  • How can we design and engineer cities that maintain/improve/prioritise sharing?
  • What does a sharing city look like and how does it function?
  • What are the barriers to creating and maintaining such a sharing city?
  • How do sharing cities impact individual, community and planetary wellbeing?
  • Can sharing cities reduce carbon and other resource use while positively impacting wellbeing?
  • What gets shared in the sharing city?
  • Who shares (e.g., between groups, between cities)?
  • Is sharing equal for all parties involved?
  • How does sharing occur?

While we can draw upon research that is being conducted in different areas of the Liveable Cities project to understand some of these issues, studies on cities are rarely complete without a contextualisation. We chose therefore to understand what would it mean for the city of Lancaster (one of the three Liveable Cities case studies) to become a Sharing City. We are also aiming to conduct a shorter comparative study for the city of Birmingham.

Lancaster is a small city in the North-West of England, characterised by a rich historical and cultural heritage, its proximity to nature, and two universities. A large number of groups involved in formal and informal initiatives of sharing are active in the city. We decided to directly involve these groups early on in our research project, to learn from their expertise and day-to-day experience. To do so, we organised a one-day workshop for researchers and members of the local community involved in or with a strong interest in sharing.

The aims of the workshop included mapping current initiatives of formal and informal sharing in Lancaster, discussing worst-case scenarios (worries, dangers and risks of sharing), and imagining a future city in which positive initiatives of sharing could be amplified, new forms of sharing could be created, and barriers could be destroyed. A summary report is forthcoming.

One of the key-concepts of the day was the need for building bridges. The Lancaster Map of Sharing produced at the beginning of the workshop captured a rich landscape of initiatives, particularly in the areas of food and urban farming, ethical and fair trade, knowledge and skills exchange. However, there seems to be a need for better communication and understanding across the groups and with the rest of the population that is not directly involved (but might be interested).

Bridges are also constituted by spaces and infrastructures. The ill-designed transport network in Lancaster, and the limited spaces that are available for shared use, constitute practical barriers to sharing. Finally, to design a sharing city, bridges between communities and the local government should be improved, by supporting models of participatory governance.

However, the ultimate condition for sharing is trust. This leads to an additional research question: what are the conditions to be designed for a city that promotes trust?

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