The collaborative economy, which has rapidly spread across Europe and beyond over the past few years, is the the backbone of the Sharing City. Sharing, swapping, lending, borrowing and leasing-based practices and business models have been popping up as alternatives to traditional ownership of most assets, often leveraging the potential of digital platforms and ubiquitous networks to connect people and mobilise information at a scale and scope never seen before.
Within cities, the sharing economy has indeed found a fertile ground of development. Thanks to the typical relational and assets density of cities, sharing and collaborative-based models have been developing rapidly across different sectors, influencing both production and consumption: shared mobility and housing, new practices of peer to peer and decentralized production, often crystallised in the so-called ‘maker movement’, or new forms of collaborative finance and governance. The sharing economy has contributed to open the way to a new city paradigm, defining new opportunities to rethink services in a more efficient and smart way. Furthermore, well beyond the sole business domain, the sharing economy has often materialised across a variety of citizens-led initiatives (swap markets, urban gardens, social streets, collective management of public buildings, etc.), operating as a viable test-bed for exploring alternative models of management and care of urban assets that also contribute to (re)creating social ties and cohesion, while igniting new forms of social interaction.
Next to narratives and meanings that often tend to polarise the sharing economy between (bad) capital-led monopolies and (good) community-led initiatives, the lack of standards, reliable regulatory frameworks, poor awareness on business models, not to mention the rapidly evolving nature of this phenomenon, make it difficult to implement governance arrangements that fully harvest the innovation potential of the sharing economy. The novelty and ambiguous nature of the sharing economy leaves city governments with complicated questions on how to politically approach the phenomenon (Finckand Ranchordás 2016). The ‘dodgy’ nature of the sharing economy is also the focus of the recent debate about platform cooperativism. Cooperative ownership of platforms is often seen as a possible shield against the risks of monopolies, misuse of personal data, deregulation of labour rights and people farming, brought by some initiatives - often Silicon Valley-based - of sharing economy (Scholz 2014).
Urban governance within the sharing city is indeed crucial. City governments are currently experimenting with different governance approaches, varying from active government-led programmes (e.g. initiating and coordinating public-private partnerships, stimulating experiments and encouraging discussion of where the sharing economy should be heading), to implementing strict regulations to hinder the operations of disruptive commercial sharing platforms (McLaren and Agyeman 2015). Neal Gorenflo (2015) identifies two main paths that characterise the policy-making in the field; one in which the latter may risk to reproduce social hierarchies via profit-oriented approaches (transactional sharing economy), and one that instead attempts to unlock the potential of the sharing economy to promote collective city-making and management of urban commons (transformational sharing economy). In either case, the ‘Sharing City’ approach has contributed to bring attention to new forms of collaborative governance as a strategic means to put forward new structures and spaces for dialogue, decision-making and consensus-building.
Amsterdam, Milan, London, Lisbon are a few examples of cities that have developed specific strategies and policies for the sharing economy, harnessing the potential of platform and sharing-based models to boost the creation of new jobs and enterprises, reduce waste and negative impacts over the environment, strengthen trust-based relationships and promote social innovation. Milan's specific guidelines, developed by the Municipality, foster the sharing economy as a ground of collective policy-making and social innovation. Amsterdam has been the first European city granted with the label of ‘Sharing City’. ‘Innovative Vienna 2020’ strategy recognizes the potential of the sharing economy to create new business, and yet puts strong attention on the need to improve regulation in a way that it ensures a level playing field.