Policies for a Shareable City

UPDATE: We've summarized much of this series in a new report, Policies for Shareable Cities: A Sharing Economy Policy Primer for Urban Leaders. Get your free copy here today.  

On May 7, 2011, Shareable hosted SHARE San Francisco at The Hub social enterprise coworking space. A diverse group of city leaders from business, city government, and the civic sector explored how San Francisco can become an even more powerful platform for sharing through presentations and an open space meeting. We held SHARE San Francisco because we saw an opportunity to spark a movement that amplifies cities' ability to foster sharing, co-production, and mutual-aid among citizens.

During the open space part of the meeting, Lawrence Grodeska, from the city’s Department of Environment, suggested that the group draft a sharing manifesto with concrete policy proposals. The idea was to present this to mayoral candidates in the upcoming election. Lawrence Grodeska, Daniel Dietrich of Hey, Neighbor, Milicent Johnson of Shareable, Tim West of Grubly, and myself agreed to work on this document together.

A lively e-mail dialog, wiki, and an in-person meeting followed. Janelle Orsi of the Sustainable Economies Law Center and Saskia van Gendt of the Environmental Protection Agency joined the e-mail dialog. The idea was to get as much input from as many people as possible. The 20 posts that follow were born out of that open space meeting at The Hub, and the activity that followed. It’s only fitting now that we’ve shared policy ideas with San Francisco city officials and mayoral candidates that we open up the dialog and seek input from people all over the world.

The Policies for a Shareable City series will cover 15 policy areas to inspire discussion within the sharing community and beyond. Through a partnership with Shareable, Janelle Orsi and the Sustainable Economies Law Center have taken up the thread started by Lawrence Grodeska at SHARE San Francisco. They will cover food, transportation, housing, culture, governance, entrepreneurship, and more. At the bottom of this post is the series index which we’ll hyperlink as we publish each article. The hope is that each post prompts you to share ideas in comments and take action in your city. And please copy, remix, and share the policy proposals as you see fit.

Together the proposals represent the underpinnings of a larger vision in which the common wealth in cities is made accessible to all residents; where the free flow of resources among citizens is aided by law, the built environment, culture, nonprofits, government, and business; and where citizens are free to co-create great lives for each other in a vivifying cooperative framework. That said, the series is far from comprehensive. We think it’s a cornerstone, one that we invite you to build on.

One a personal note, the series represents an evolution in my own thinking, one that offers meaningful context to the series. Shareable was founded on the idea that sharing is key to solving the triple crises of environment, economy, and social division. This is a big idea, but it needs grounding. The sharing of physical assets is place-based. And cities are where sharing can most easily happen and have the most impact. We’ve just become an urban species, with over 50% of the global population living in cities and urbanization accelerating. I’m far from alone in seeing cities as the crucible in which our future will be invented. What’s unique here at Shareable is that we believe that cities will only deliver on the promise for change if they are conceived as commons, as places to share.

This is all fine and well, but what I didn’t realize when we started Shareable was that there are all kinds of sharing and shared use that’s illegal (and not just file sharing!). I had been under the happy illusion that all sharing innovators needed to do was create new sharing models to obsolete old models (to paraphrase Buckminster Fuller) and we’d be all set.

But guess what? In many places, laws do not allow you to insure a car that you rent to a neighbor, sell vegetables grown in your backyard, create a for-payment ridesharing service, or rent out a room in your home for short stays. The list goes on and on. So, the sharing movement must do something much more difficult than building anew to obsolete the old — it must hack the law to make sharing easy and legal.

The good news is that while many national governments are gridlocked and failing to change, city governments are forging ahead. I have long known that cities have taken the lead in environmental policies, but it wasn’t until we began engaging San Francisco about participatory budgeting that I personally experienced the possibility for impact.

Through our coverage, sharing stories with city officials and mayoral candidates, and by sponsoring an expert visit to the mayor’s office, we helped start a serious dialog about participatory budgeting within city government and mayoral campaigns. While the outcome is uncertain, the progress we made with a modest effort made me into an even more ardent believer in cities as a vehicle for change. While cities have their challenges, the doors of city hall are much more open than those of national governments. Shareable cities are not only an inspiring vision, but a real possibility if we work together to make the vision real city by city.

Policies for a Shareable City: A 15-Part Series with the Sustainable Economies Law Center and others:

  1. Car Sharing and Parking Sharing
  2. Ride Sharing
  3. Bike Sharing
  4. Shareable Commercial Spaces
  5. Shareable Housing
  6. Homes as Sharing Hubs
  7. Shareable Neighborhoods
  8. Shareable Workspaces
  9. Recreational and Green Spaces
  10. Shareable Rooftops
  11. Urban Agriculture
  12. Food Sharing
  13. Public Libraries
  14. The Shareable City Employee
  15. How to Rebuild the City as a Platform
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