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As the sharing economy explodes in growth, with new startups emerging regularly, many city officials are left scratching their heads wondering how to deal with this industry. From Uber and Airbnb, which have become what Shareable co-founder Neal Gorenflo describes as “death star platforms," to local sharing projects, much of the sharing economy remains in grey areas.

Local governments are faced with what a new report calls a “tsunami of Sharing Economy activities” that has many of them overwhelmed and ill-equipped to develop an effective response. Local Governments and the Sharing Economy is a “roadmap helping local governments across North America strategically engage with the sharing economy to foster more sustainable cities.” The report explores the question: How can cities strategically engage with the sharing economy to advance sustainability? It offers three key messages:

  • The Sharing Economy is not inherently sustainable but cities can help to make it more so.
  • Community sharing (timebanks, lending libraries, repair cafes, etc.) is a promising area where local governments can play proactive, enabling roles.
  • Addressing data gaps is critical for understanding sustainability impacts on cities.

The report is designed to provide tools to help local governments address pressing challenges and to “get ahead of the curve and harness the Sharing Economy to advance sustainability.” Developed and written by One Earth, a Vancouver-based non-profit organization focused on shifting to sustainable consumption and production across scales, with a grant from The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation as part of the Cities for People initiative, the report is lead authored by Rosemary Cooper and Vanessa Timmer. Shareable's Neal Gorenflo served as an official adviser to the project.

The authors argue that, while there are grassroots movements, including Shareable’s Sharing City Network, and city networks, including the National League of Cities, the roadmap’s focus on the intersection of the sharing economy, sustainability, and local government is unique—particularly its focus on sustainability.

The roadmap outlines four main tools to help local governments:

  1. Defining the Sharing Economy: The roadmap analyzes different definitions of the sharing economy and provides one tailored to local government.
  2. Sustainability Filter and Sharing Economy Analysis Picture: The roadmap describes a sustainability filter with six questions to help local governments prioritize involvement in the Sharing Economy, which is then used to analyze, in depth: shared mobility, shared spaces, shared goods, and community sharing. And to a lighter degree: shared food, and shared energy. Sustainability impacts and recommendations for local governments are summarized.
  3. Strategic Opportunities for Local Governments: The roadmap describes key strategic ways that local governments can enable the sharing economy to advance sustainable cities given limited resources. Examples include: enable community sharing; address data gaps; focus and align; lead by example; commit to equity; and develop systematic and integrated approaches over time.
  4. Sharing Economy Resources: The roadmap provides a list of sharing economy experts and networks and recommended reading and a sample of local government materials including ordinances and bylaws.

The Local Governments and the Sharing Economy report also looks at city cases from across North America and Seoul to explore challenges, successes, and best practices. Case studies include the following:

  • Portland, Oregon – The City of Portland and Short-Term Rentals
  • Seoul, Korea – Seoul's Sharing City Initiative
  • Toronto, Ontario – Partners in Project Green: Materials Exchange Network
  • Austin, Texas – City of Austin and Short-Term Rentals
  • Hennepin County, MN – Coordinating Fix-It Clinics
  • Montreal, Quebec – Transport Cocktail: An Integrated Mobility System

The authors explain that the report does not celebrate the sharing economy without looking at its downsides and challenges; it does not analyze all sharing economy sectors and areas in detail; it does not provide advice for other actors beyond local governments in North America; and it does not suggest exactly what cities should do—each city's choices are based on its unique priorities, interests and resources.

Download the 36 page summary of the report, or the 216 page, full Local Governments and the Sharing Economy report.

On Tuesday, November 24 at 10am PST / 1pm EST, the lead authors are hosting a free, one hour webinar to discuss the roadmap highlights. RSVP through Eventbrite.


Photo: Diego Torres Silvestre (CC-BY). Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter

Cat Johnson


Cat Johnson | |

Cat Johnson is a content strategist and teacher helping community builders create strong brands. A longtime writer, marketing pro and coworking leader, Cat is the founder of Coworking Convos and