Milan, Italy is home to Milan Sharing City, a municipal program dedicated to supporting sharing enterprises and practices. Photo by: Mariano Mantel / Flickr. Interview by Monica Bernardi and Christian Iaione.
As the foci of experimentation in technologically-enabled sharing practices, cities have become the center of discourse about sharing economy policy. Municipalities around the world including Seoul, Amsterdam, London have begun implementing programs, legislation and regulatory frameworks to support the local sharing economy. One such city is Milan, Italy, home to Milan Sharing City, a project within Milan's Smart City Program.
We recently sat down with Renato Galliano, the supervisor of Milan's Smart City and Sharing City project. We asked about the origins of the project and he gave an early assessment of its successes and shortcomings, including on the issues of participation and inclusion.
This article is the first in a series co-produced by LabGov and Shareable highlighting public policy fostering the sharing economy and the urban commons. Forthcoming articles will examine other case studies throughout Italy and the European Union.
Monica Bernardi and Christian Iaione: How did Milan Sharing City begin?
Renato Galliano: The Smart City Division has always taken a keen interest in innovative processes, especially in the urban setting and, above all, in a period—like this—of economic paradigm change. We looked at the sharing economy as we [had] previously looked at other [developments], such as innovative spaces (ex. co-working) and the relationship between [startups] and traditional industry. Recognizing [the potential of the sharing economy to become] an important phenomenon from different points of view, in early 2014 we decided to accompany its development.
[At that time], there were already several groups working on the topic. Sharexpo and Sharitaly were the main ones. [Sharexpo encouraged] reflection on the potential of sharing economy to [mitigate] the extra load on the city that [Expo Milano] would bring. We engaged with all the actors involved an open and collaborative dialogue, to learn about their needs, goals and problems.
[Our] working method, based on a listening phase, followed by a participatory phase and, as a last stage, the delivery of [a public policy instrument], has been adopted also in other policy areas: in a macro way for the Smart City theme, involving big urban players such as universities, businesses and [voluntary and community organizations]; and also for specific phenomena like co-working.
[Regarding co-working], listening to the actors involved [encouraged] us to rethink our first idea of intervention. [Instead] of creating a public co-working [space, we decided to] support the existing structures, without becoming a player in opposition [to them]. We developed ad hoc public policies such as the Co-working Register and the coworking spaces' voucher supply system.
The same path has been followed for the Sharing City. [During] the initial phases, we collaborated [with the public] on a draft document on the topic. [We brought the final document] to the City Council [pdf] for approval and published guidelines for the sharing economy [pdf], launching a series of collaborative tools. One example is the Register of the Sharing Economy’s Actors [pdf], [which includes a list of] experts and operators (to date more than 100), followed by other activities [brought to our attention] during consultation, such as: civic crowdfunding platforms; Co-HUB, a physical space to cultivate the culture of sharing and the collaborative economy; and a call from our social innovation incubator, FabriQ, for startups working in the field.
I'd like to underline that we worked on two levels: at the local level, as seen, but also on [the national and international] levels. [We liaised] with the EU Committee of the Regions, which was working on the Opinion on the Sharing Economy at the EU level. On the national level, we worked on a proposed national law on the sharing economy with, the Italian Inter-parliamentary group for innovation, Forum PA, and ANCI. [We also worked] with some international operators such as AirBnb to define specific agreements. However, I believe that public policy [should not aim] to lock the sharing economy within stringent regulatory frameworks, since it responds to a real need—social or economic—that goes beyond the policies adopted at local, national and international levels.
What unites Milan's various sharing economy policies?
We framed the Sharing City project [within the larger] Smart City process. The latter is a transdisciplinary public policy, and the mandate is of coordination—not of realization. The topic of the smart city is [appreciated less for its] technological dimensions and more from the citizens’ perspective. Within this "human smart city," the sharing economy represents a tool, among others, to improve the quality of life of city-dwellers and enterprises.
[It is essential that the] different divisions [working on the smart city] dialogue and work [together]. The real problem is related not to the content of the projects, but to the traditional, "siloed" approach of public administration. To overcome this attitude is not easy, but in Milan the entire smart city process has been conducted in a horizontal way, analyzing internally the city's projects, in a multi-purpose approach and speaking with the individual directors.
What difficulties did you encounter in developing policy for the sharing economy?
The main difficulties are not related to the city itself but to the phenomenon. First of all, the issue of regulation of new unplanned activities that touch corporate interests stratified over the decades. For this reason we decided to work [beyond the] the local level, since some regulatory arrangements depend on national and EU [authorities].
Another general difficulty is connected to the extreme diversification of the sharing economy's actors, from multinational corporations with international technological platforms to community experiences, such as Social Street, and non-economic exchange platforms of goods and services. The diverse actors hold dissimilar skills, competencies, backgrounds, and economic power, and sometimes don’t recognize themselves as part of the same phenomenon. The approach must be different [for each case], based on specific languages and features.
On the [other hand], the feedback from citizens has been excellent. The public administration's intervention has been perceived in a positive, non-invasive way, as an accompanying relationship. The current difficulty is to switch from the city level to the metropolitan level. We would like the Register, for example, to take a metropolitan dimension to formally intercept actors and experiences outside of the city.
Which projects have been most successful?
Fifteen high-quality projects were selected through a call and incubated at FabriQ; among them, only two are experiencing some difficulties. [But keep in mind that] the municipality intervened more [at the level of] governance [than at] the projects level. We don't [directly supervise the projects]. After [an understandably] difficult first phase, the local projects, like Social Street, are doing very well, and are involving a growing number of citizens. The big platforms, like AirBnb, could count on the flywheel effect of universal exposure and are thriving in the city. [Some projects face challenges] related to a series of obligations introduced to respond to real local needs (fees for use of public land, taxes for marketing, etc.).
In terms of projects initiated directly by the municipality, the civic crowdfunding [scheme] is receiving positive feedback. We chose the platform, Eppela, through a public call, instead of creating one by ourselves, and now we are evaluating the projects received [through it].
How would you rate Milan Sharing City’s record on participation and inclusion?
About participation: yes, our process is facilitating participation. It is a subject of interest for [those citizens working on responding to local needs]. These needs can be of an economic nature or related to community building. [In the former case, sharing projects] can produce income for someone or save them money; [regarding] the latter, [projects foster community] relations by encouraging residents' participation. In addition, the participatory budgeting process, with one million Euros for each of the nine zones of the city, is clearly reinforcing this aspect.
[The issue of inclusion is more closely related to] the content of the projects. For some of them, the main goal is exactly the inclusion of vulnerable subjects; others have cross-cutting [goals]. In general, the topic of inclusion is defined more in terms of social innovation. Therefore, even social businesses' projects, which aim to solve social problems and favor integration, are able to reduce social exclusion.
An example is the FabLab that will open soon in D'Azeglio Street: the project includes associations, the third sector, schools, other FabLabs, etc., in a logic of deep integration. Other projects that have a clear goal of including specific groups, such as NEET (addressed to young people not engaged in education, employment, or training), or OpenCare, can count on the active participation of FabLab.
The governance dimension is clearly crucial. What new relations and collaborations were established through the project?
The main governance tools that we use are the public calls and the Register, which are inclusive tools by design. They allow a phenomenon to emerge instead of selecting or evaluating the actors that are part of the phenomenon. For example, the Register is public and presents the description of each actor registered. We called them with specific [follow-up] questions [that helped initiate] new interconnections and relations.
In general, new relations are emerging, thanks to the call that allow us to enter into contact with subjects interested in the topic, or through the community's projects, or in a direct way, as [with] AirBnb. The calls for the Co-HUB space, the crowdfunding platform, and the FabriQ incubator are all important governance tools that are opening new sets of relations.
Are any key actors missing from the Milan Sharing City process as it currently operates?
The entire traditional financial world is still not involved in this discourse. The reason, [I imagine], is that their internal rules do not allow financial institutions to [respond] quickly [to new economic phenomena]. This [affects] not only the sharing economy, but also the smart city discussion as a whole: banks are not able to finance smart city projects, unless they [fall into very specific categories], such as energy projects. In some cases, banks are unable to evaluate the market value of the new platforms, [especially] if they generate a low economic return (as with the platforms for the exchange of goods).
Paradoxically, the stock market [should be] able to assess the value of these platforms, since it doesn't value only the [projects'] budgets, but also their potential for development, the involvement of other actors, and so on. At some point, the involvement of the financial world will become necessary; otherwise [these initiatives will suffer from a lack of funding].
What will happen to Milan Sharing City in the future, especially in view of the coming elections?
The phenomenon has started, and in my opinion it cannot be stopped. The future is uncertain; [soon we will hold] elections, and a lot will depend on the political approach of the new city government. But even if [the new government is] completely against the sharing economy, the phenomenon will keep going, since it responds to authentic needs. I hope the new City Council will add value to [what we've] built [over the past] five years. There are unequivocal figures about the position of Milan in terms of our focus on the smart city, the sharing economy, and social innovation, with awards and recognitions at national and European levels. It would be such a waste not to enhance this legacy and thus lose our competitiveness.
What are the next steps in the Milan Sharing City process?
After working on the emergence of the phenomenon and on the dialogue and agreements with new actors, the goal of the next five years, in my opinion, should be the setting-up of concrete but flexible structures through which the administration can directly dialogue with other stakeholders. Milan should adopt a kind of innovation agency to create new relations and partnerships, and [to address the city's international standing].
[On the metropolitan level, it would be interesting to see emerge an authority who could] partner with the different municipalities, the chambers of commerce, the universities, and so on, aggregating all the different actors [in order] to promote innovation at all levels.