Many of us go about our daily lives using services like Uber, HomeAway, AirBnB, Task Rabbit, Lyft, Citi Bike (not in Dallas… but in NYC) and Zipcar. These services are the result of the sharing economy. The sharing economy is a system built around the sharing of human and physical resources. It includes the shared creation, production, distribution, trade and consumption of goods and services by different people and organizations.
It is no secret that the demographic trend toward urban connectivity creates an optimal environment for businesses and organizations based on the sharing economy. Denser living arrangements afforded by cities offer more opportunity for sharing resources and services. To go one step further, many sharing economy businesses revolve around a technology-enabled platform making the initial cost to start relatively low. The space, daylight, access, and collaborative needs of an entrepreneur are quite similar to a new technology start-up. An entrepreneur could range from an artist to a realtor. Both entities can operate in a lean manner given the right context.
But what type of urban environment fosters such businesses and enables them to reach their full potential?
To retain these businesses long term, the urban environment needs to be walkable, attractive, stimulating and enable chance encounters. This environment generates places that people form attachments to, and where they will want to re-invest over time. Sharing economy businesses thrive in flexible, mixed-use buildings that are within a five-minute walking distance to daily services as well as well-designed streets, sidewalks, open spaces, third-places, transit, etc. Third-places are distinct from home and work. They are coffee shops, pubs, bookstores and other places that enable the exchange of ideas. These buildings can be designed in many forms and sizes, such as live-work units, integrated mixed-use buildings and co-working space. However, it is the way they address their surroundings and provide the opportunity for informal interaction that is critical.
Places can support collaborative interaction by:
• Providing an assorted offering of courtyards, small greens, plazas, trails and pedestrian ways that are furnished with amenities;
• Locating flexible, mixed use buildings on great streets that are not only functional, but serve as linear civic spaces with street trees and wide sidewalks that connect to open spaces and trails;
• Opening the ground floor out onto the street with street-facing live-work units or ground floor retail/office units; and
• Offering diverse and detailed architectural facades, doors, windows, signage, and lighting to create visual interest and an engaging street.
Such urban environments play upon the sharing economy business model, which emerges from our oldest instincts as humans – cooperation, sharing, generosity, individual choice and flexibility. It includes strong ties between the community and commerce as well as human connection, while creating value out of underused resources. Forbes estimates the revenue flowing through the sharing economy is starting to surpass $3.5 billion in 2013 with growth exceeding 25%.
If we want the sharing economy and entrepreneurs to thrive in our community, then quality walkable, urban places are essential to their success.