Looking at the Sharing Economy as a Toolbox to Improve Cities
Pieter van de Glind and Harmen van Sprang, the co-founders of shareNL (a knowledge and networking platform for the Netherlands) and Sharing City Alliance (a global organization facilitating the interconnection of cities), are passionate advocates for the sharing economy’s potential to transform cities. The business partners hail from Amsterdam, which incorporates the sharing economy into many aspects of everyday life, from peer-to-peer energy marketplaces to Park Fly Rent, a company that facilitates outgoing travelers in Amsterdam renting their cars to incoming tourists. “Digital is changing real behavior,” van de Glind said. “We see this through the sharing economy.” According to van de Glind, the first iteration of the global sharing economy revolved around social sharing, and then moved toward efficiency. Many sharing economy enterprises in the Netherlands, if not Europe overall, are social enterprises, founded by individuals who have goals beyond making money. Van Sprang sees these sharing economy platforms as empowering people. “As soon as people know they can be empowered through technology, there’s no going back,” said van Sprang.
Van de Glind and van Sprang are well aware that it isn’t all roses in the sharing economy. From insurance, to zoning, to taxes, many of the areas that the sharing economy disrupts need a deep reimagining, and can’t simply be swept under the rug. Cities are not blindly embracing this new phenomenon, van de Glind emphasized, and described the process instead as a “dance” between governments on various levels and large online platforms. How do they relate to each other?” Yet van de Glind and van Sprang provided many encouraging examples of cities getting into the nuts and bolts of policy and regulation: from a a Right to Challenge initiative of the Dutch government that tackled food sharing to Japan’s goal of having 70 “sharing cities” by the end of 2017 to the Mayor of Seoul, one of the pioneers of viewing the sharing economy as a way to better utilize excess capacity. The two co-founders also are firm believers in sharing economy as a force for sustainability and strengthening social ties. Van de Glind and Harmen van Sprang want to communicate to city officials they work with that the sharing economy isn’t just a few big names that dominate the headlines, but a rich ecosystem of startups. Ultimately, van de Glind says, they hope that city officials will “stop thinking of the sharing economy as just a problem to solve—though there are problems that can be solved—and also start thinking about it as a toolbox that can make cities a better place.”