At over 11,000 residents per square mile, Philadelphia is among the most densely populated cities in the country. And those miles offer a rich history of community, shared spaces, and pooled resources. From thriving open markets to urban gardens and a wealth of public art, the metropolis has vast resources to help residents make do without the need for car ownership, large homes, or mass personal consumption.
Here are eight examples of the city’s bustling sharing economy:
1. A growing bike-share system
Philadelphia’s Indego bike-share system offers affordable and convenient access to two-wheeled transportation. With 120 bike stations throughout the city comprising more than 1,200 bikes, the company has announced plans to double capacity to more than 250 stations in the next few years and expand to serve an additional 15 square miles of the city. The mayor recently announced plans to build 20 miles of separated bike lanes in the next two years, making biking safer throughout the city.
2. Libraries offer more than books
The Free Library of Philadelphia has more than books for loan. From a health lending library with food scales and blood pressure cuffs to kitchen cupboards stocked with cataloged cake pans and a musical instrument collection with banjos, steel drums, and keyboards, you can find almost anything you need to borrow among its 54 branches. Philly even has a “Tiebrary” as part of one branch’s Job Readiness Lab.
3. Reduce, reuse, rehome
Between gentrification and the tearing down of abandoned housing, the city has a wealth of potential hiding in its former homes and buildings. Just because the houses are no more doesn’t mean the materials are not valuable. Nonprofit Philadelphia Community Corps deconstructs abandoned buildings and sells the materials through the Philly Reclaim architectural salvage warehouse. With a dual mission of job training and waste diversion, the organization provides tax-deductible deconstruction services to residential, industrial, and commercial demolitions. The Philly Reclaim store sells salvaged building materials, antiques, and secondhand home goods to the community.
4. Borrow the tools you need, and get free advice
By offering more than 4,000 tools, from hammers to cement mixers, The West Philly Tool Library makes home repairs and maintenance more accessible and affordable for local residents. Community members are offered both tools and advice to perform tasks like needed repairs, furniture building, landscaping, and more. The Tool Library’s Program Director spoke with Shareable earlier this year.
5. Surplus used to ferment sharing culture
Philabundance, a nonprofit that is fighting hunger in Philadelphia, has its own new collaborative food line: Abundantly Good. In collaboration with local food banks and the Pennsylvania dairy industry, the organization saves surplus milk being wasted, and partners with local cheesemakers to create high-quality cheese. The $9,000 made in sales so far will be used to capture and process more surplus milk.
6. Reporting food waste in a snap
Philly Food Rescue offers a smartphone app designed to help alleviate both food waste and hunger by addressing the disconnect between food supply and access. Using an app that connects food surplus with a growing network of volunteers, the nonprofit organization rescues food from restaurants and distributes it directly to people who need it.
7. An encore for stage props
Originally created as a resource for the local arts scene, The Resource Exchange provides reclaimed materials for creative and resourceful crafting, building, and decorating. The nonprofit collects unwanted set pieces, props, costumes, fabrics, housewares, and home improvement items to sell to artists, builders, educators, and the general public. The Resource Exchange is moving to an expanded location in Kensington this spring.
Editor’s note: The Resource Exchange is currently moving to their new location at 1800 N. American St. and is temporarily closed and will reopen in late Spring/ early Summer.
8. Shared space keeps overhead low for artists
Shared space initiatives abound beyond traditionally paid co-working spaces (which are also plentiful in Philly). The Asian Arts Initiative’s cooperative facilities project will connect neighborhood-based cultural groups with low- or no-cost residency, rehearsal or meeting space. Mascher Space Co-op is a home for dance in Philadelphia, providing affordable and versatile space.