assessing the sharing economy

(Los Angeles) I’m here for CityLab 2014 (which is being live-streamed):

Hosted by The Atlantic in partnership with The Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies, CityLabis one of our most innovative programs of the year, bringing together 300+ of the world’s top mayors, urban experts, city planners, writers, technologists, economists, and designers.

The current panel is entitled “What’s Mine is Yours? The New Dynamics of the Sharing City.” I am struck by an ideological disagreement that may not be as evident to the Moderator (James Bennet, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic).

Two participants–Brian Chesky, the CEO and founder of Airbnb, and NYU professor Arun Sundararajan–are enthusiastic about new market mechanisms for pairing individual sellers with buyers, firms like Uber and Airbnb. They see these innovations as not only economically efficient and good for both parties (Sundararajan has found positive impacts on wages) but also as signs of a “profound” shift to a greater degree of interpersonal trust and community. Chesky argues that firms like Airbnb are restoring some of the social bonds that existed before mass manufacturing estranged individuals from one another.

In contrast, David Sheard, the Council Leader in Kirklees (UK) is a Labour politician. He opened his remarks by telling a story of a Council decision to close a public facility. Citizens objected that  the facility was “theirs,” not the city’s. Now the Kirklees Council engages the public in deliberative processes. It may be that Kirlklees also supports new  sharing markets; panelist April Rinne suggested that was the case. Nevertheless, I hear two very different ideas of “community”–one in which people form voluntary relationships in order to exchange services and develop trust, and the other in which people talk together about public goods and make binding decisions for the community as a whole. Sheard said, “It is not about sharing assets, it is about sharing ideas.”

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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