The Collaborative Economy
Cities have so much potential. If you stand at an intersection in an urban area, and consider for a moment the tremendous wealth of products you could buy/trade/share, skills you could learn, services you could contract, experiences you could have, people you could meet, and ideas you could exchange just within a block’s radius, it quickly becomes mind-boggling. Yet, for the most part we lack access to all these resources. While we can connect with everything on the ground floor - the retail space - we have lost the knowledge about all the amazing things the city residents - our peers - have to offer. So many of the opportunities we might be able to take advantage of are inaccessible to us, hidden behind closed doors or locked away in people’s minds.
In a world of infinite resources and total equality, perhaps this would be fine, but in a world where we are facing climate change, resource depletion, and social injustice, this is just not acceptable. We are voraciously consuming resources from around the globe - much to the detriment of our environemnt - while we leave all these resources around us massively underutilized. If we wish to continue living in a society that affords us a degree of convenience and opportunity similar to what we currently enjoy, we need to find a way to tap into all these assets that surround us.
Of course, this is how it used to be. Towns, tribes, villages and other types of communities historically supported themselves just fine without relying on the outside world to meet their needs. However, as the density of our settlements increased and the pace of life quickened, we began to lose touch with what the people around us had to offer, and we instead turned to businesses and brands to support us. This shift has since snowballed out of control to the point where selling, bartering, and sharing amongst neighbors is nothing but a fringe movement and the community based economies that worked so well for so long have been almost entirely replaced by globalization.
With this new economic infrastructure so firmly entrenched, how can we ever hope to return to a model that grows our communities instead of corporations? Ironically, one of globalization’s greatest achievements - the Internet and the mobile web - offer us the best opportunity to re-localize. We are on the brink of an economic revolution that will reconfigure the way we live and help us remember how to thrive within our means. I like to call this revolution the collaborative economy.
By harnessing the power of the social web and all the amazing tools it offers to share, communicate, organize, collaborate, and discover, we will soon have access to a robust peer to peer economy where we buy, sell, share, trade, rent, and give directly with the people around us in our towns or apartments. As we go online and use these tools to communicate with each other about the various things we have to offer and the different things we need, we will start making far better use of our resources and taking full advantage of all the ways that we can help each other. Suddenly, all these assets that are sitting around underutilized - spaces that are not filled, possessions that are not needed, skills that are not used, time that is wasted - will become commodities that we can leverage to support ourselves and meet our needs. This new economic model is variously being called collaborative consumption, the sharing economy, or the peer to peer economy, and as it takes hold it has the potential to disrupt globalization and pave a path to a more just and sustainable future.
In the past few years we have seen a number of sites emerge that are giving us new opportunities to connect with each other in this way. AirBNB (p2p housing marketplace), Etsy (p2p art & craft marketplace), Zimride (p2p ride sharing), LandShare (p2p land sharing), Gidsy (p2p experience marketplace), SkillShare (p2p skill sharing) and Good Karma (kids clothing rental) are a just few examples of this. Yet this movement has just begun, and once we get enough people within a community together in one place engaging in these old-market behaviors (say, by replacing Craigslist with a platform for the collaborative economy), it will open so many additional possibilites for cooperation.
I believe that rebuilding communities and strengthening our local economies is one of the most impactful things we can do if we wish to solve the myriad environmental, social, and economic problems we face. To this end, I’ve spent the last 15 months of my life working tirelessly to build a platform that will make all these exciting things possible. It is called Swidjit, and it’s just about ready to share with the world. I invite you to follow Swidjit’s progress on Facebook, and/or Twitter. You can also help support this vision by making a contribution to our IndieGoGo campaign.
See you at the farmer’s market!
Sustainable Cities Collective