Imagine that the next time you need space for a community event, you just book a room in a local public building. This is the vision that city officials in Amsterdam are working toward for an upcoming project that has been described as the Airbnb of municipal buildings.
Spearheaded by Nanette Schippers, program manager of the sharing economy in the city's Chief Technology Office, and Femke Haccou, an urban innovation officer, the project aims to further the city's commitment to being a Sharing City and put idle resources to use for organizations that have a social mission. Amsterdam has an official sharing economy program in place. Officials hope to launch the municipal building pilot program early this year.
We connected with Schippers about the inspiration for the project, what the initial response has been, and why it's important for Sharing Cities to practice what they preach.
Cat Johnson: What inspired the project and what are the first steps you're taking to implement it?
Nanette Schippers: Kirklees, a small town in the U.K. inspired us. They started the Comoodle project and won the Mayor’s Challenge with that project in 2015. They try to share everything the municipality owns. We wanted to do the same thing. If you are saying as a city that you are a Sharing City and you embrace and want to stimulate the sharing economy, then you have to practice what you preach.
Our first steps were to analyze — together with our colleagues of the facility department — what is the easiest to share, so that we can start a pilot. Our facility colleagues are so enthusiastic about this. That’s lovely to see. They said that it is such a waste that a lot of our meeting rooms are empty on certain days or timeslots. Of course, they know exactly which room on what moment is empty — and that they would love to open it for organizations that are here to make a social impact.
We will be hosting a design thinking inspired workshop with our facility colleagues to see what challenges we will face when opening up our meeting rooms. Also, we have had some talks with our legal advisors to see what we can and can't do.
Nanette Schippers (left) and Femke Haccou (right) are creating an Airbnb of municipal buildings in Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of Nanette Schippers.
The municipal spaces will be available only to organizations working for a social purpose. Why is this important?
For us it is not possible to just open up our meeting rooms to everyone, because then we are disturbing the meeting room rental market. But if we make sure that the organizations that are using the meeting rooms are social organizations — or with a social impact — it won't be such a problem. And, of course, it looks like a win-win situation for both the government and for the organizations.
How have the close ties between the city government and local sharing economy companies enabled and accelerated this project? How do you see the two working together moving forward?
The sharing companies inspire us a lot. We are in close contact with them and Share NL, the sharing hub. We try to meet up or go to Meetups at least once a month but preferably more often to hear what is going on in the field of sharing: which new platforms started, which problems they face, and how can we help, but also to help introduce them to colleagues. Just recently we had a Meetup where we asked the platforms to pretend as if they are the vice mayors and have to solve a particular problem with a sharing solution.
They know the field better than anyone, so it is great to see which ideas they come up with. It is also a check for us: Are we on the right track? Are we missing something? We believe that we have to go out there to hear and see what is happening and what people need. No use to sit behind your desk and invent new projects that won't fit reality.
Also, we would love to have a space sharing platform as a booking system for this project. But for now, that is too early to arrange. First we have to test, test, test.
What has the response been to the project, from city leaders, citizens, and the commercial sector?
Everyone has been very enthusiastic and also willing to help. We do need to spend more time — when the pilot is ready to start — informing citizens and organizations that they can use our meeting rooms. From the commercial sector, the most responses came from share space booking platforms. Of course they are quite eager to get involved.
What challenges do you face with this project and how are you addressing them?
We have to sort out some legal issues regarding preventing false competition and reliability issues. Also, a lot of practicalities: Will we be charging a basic fee? Who will open up the doors of the meeting rooms? How do we make sure people won't be wandering around the properties? How do we check if an organization is indeed a social organization? Which booking system are we going to use? And: When do we see the pilot as a success and if it is a success, how do we make sure it will be something permanent?
This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.