In this article, the authors offer three visions of modern sharing beyond that of the “sharing economy”: as a challenge to consumerism, as a revival of the ethos of the public sector, and as an inspiration for a collective and progressive politics.
Soaring house prices, scarce affordable rental opportunities, increasing income inequality: modern cities aren’t working well for many. Most cities are doing a poor job of sharing their collective resources in anything like an equitable and just manner. As urban populations continue to boom across the world, and resource scarcity and changing climates bite, the success of cities in sharing resources, energy and land is the critical challenge of the coming century.
In this article we outline the case set out in our book Sharing Cities, that cities must be proactive in harnessing dramatic shifts in the nature of contemporary sharing as a means to rebuild civic culture, progressive politics and a shared urban commons. In short, we see the coming together of three visions of sharing: as a challenge to consumerism, as a revival of the ethos of the public sector, and as an inspiration for a collective and progressive politics. We first describe how sharing is changing in the 21st Century – becoming more commercial, and intermediated. We then explain how that is impacting on values and norms of consumerism, individualism and intercultural interaction; and suggest how cities could exploit changing values and novel sharing technologies to enhance sustainability, resilience and justice.
The changing nature of sharing
Cities have long been both shared spaces, and places where communities share everything from homes to skills. Cities have been built around shared services and infrastructure from transit to schools, and from sewerage to libraries. Close-knit social and ethnic communities have maintained sharing traditions such as mutual self-help, cooperative buying, informal social and child-care, credit unions, and sharing of tools and local facilities.
But in this age of neo-liberal capitalism and austerity, all these forms of sharing are under pressure. Public services and even infrastructures are cut-back and privatised. Communities have been fragmented by unemployment, job insecurity, fears of crime, gentrification and more, to the extent that neighbours scarcely know each other, never mind trusting one another. Traditional old-fashioned face-to-face forms of sharing with friends and neighbours have declined as stable local communities and social capital has been eroded.