- Harmen van Sprang, with Pieter van de Glind
Just around the corner, in the heart of Amsterdam, there’s a house high mural painting stating ‘Ik speel in de stad met alles wat er bestaat’, in other words ‘I play in the city with everything there is.’ It actually is a quote by a young boy from a school nearby. For me, this motto is the metaphor of a true ‘sharing city.’ Let’s face it: all we need is already there, right at your doorstep. Look around in your own neighborhood, in your own community. From a helping hand to someone who can cook a meal for you; from a ladder you can borrow from a neighbor to a car when you want to leave town. Sometimes really the only thing you have to do is ask. And share.
Thriving local sharing ecosystem
I see this happening in my own community, recognizing what it means when people share. I think I can honestly say that my neighborhood became a more social and safe place because people connected. For me, it started years ago by putting a large dollhouse on the street which my daughters didn’t use anymore. We decided not to just let the garbage men take it away. No, we saw a second chance for this house by filling it with some things from our attic. We put a little note on it, calling it the ‘sharing house’ and before we knew it we had a thriving local sharing ecosystem, right in front of our house. Already for years now, people from all over the place are using this ‘sharing house’ to either take a little gem or to place something that they don’t want anymore, but might just be a special thing to someone else. Everyday we are a live witness of what this former dollhouse has to offer: a second life to a lot of stuff. But much more important: a place where people meet, have a chat, and connect. The ‘sharing house’ is just one of the examples in my local community that fosters connection between people.
Sharing economy from a 360 degrees perspective
Connecting, guess it’s the thing that makes me most happy. For me, it comes natural I guess. Bringing people together and empowering them is something that gives me a lot of energy. It’s at the basis of my work every day. Since the first moment I’m active in the sharing economy, I’ve been able to work with people from all sides: from startup founders to big company board members, and from knowledgeable academics to leaders from governments. We’ve never taken sides and have been working with the whole playing field. This approach has given us the opportunity to develop so fast in such a short time, and to really experience the sharing economy from a 360 degrees perspective. I cannot tell you how glad we are that we chose this path.
First Sharing City of Europe
When we started working on our idea to make Amsterdam into a sharing city around autumn 2013, we also followed this approach and created a network of ‘ambassadors’ from all sides of town. Partly inspired by Seoul, the South Korean capital that had the sharing economy already in sight for a longer time, we started creating our vision. After getting all stakeholders involved, we launched the so-called ‘first sharing city of Europe’ about a year later. We could not foresee what impact this could have on our work, on our city, and on our future.
Perfect public-private partnership
Before involving you in what happened next, I would first like to share my gratitude to a magnificent team at the Amsterdam city government. From day one we knocked on the door of Amsterdam City Hall, they were on board. We are very lucky that they also saw the opportunity of being a sharing city. We have a symbiotic, maybe even perfect public-private partnership in place, and I honestly think this partnership is at the heart of where ‘Amsterdam Sharing City’ is today. As Kajsa Ollongren, deputy mayor and Alderman of Economic Affairs, put it during the launch early February 2015: ‘The consumer has in recent years become increasingly powerful. The sharing economy is a huge opportunity. It just fits well with Amsterdam. That’s why we want to be known as a Sharing City.’
Playground for pilot projects
The purpose of our Sharing City initiative is to create a playground for pilot projects. An urban living lab where all stakeholders pilot with this new phenomenon and share insights and experiences. Amsterdam already houses a large number of promising sharing economy platforms, but it’s also up to more ‘traditional’ organizations like for instance SMEs, NGOs and local governments to start addressing the sharing economy. From startups to corporates, from community center to public library, from an insurer to the airport: they’re all ambassadors putting Amsterdam on the map as a city that has sharing on its mind. As Daan Weddepohl, founder of the platform Peerby put it: ‘The city is a source of abundance.’
Balance between opportunities and challenges
One of the first things the City of Amsterdam did was putting together a so-called ‘Action Plan Sharing Economy.’ With this Action Plan, launched in 2016, the Mayor and Executive Board of the City of Amsterdam ‘give space to the opportunites the sharing economy offers to the city.’ They want to ‘stimulate the sharing economy where possible, without losing sight of any excesses. Risks include an uneven playing field or a lack of social security.’ Well-balanced set: ‘The sharing economy is not a question of ban or authorize, but of monitor and seize opportunities where possible.’ This proactive attitude towards the sharing economy encourages activities that will benefit ‘innovation, social inclusiveness, sustainability and entrepreneurship.’ The City also has an open approach to the sharing economy platforms and tries to collaborate with them as much as possible. The local government welcomes disruption, ‘wherever this strengthens the city and can benefit its inhabitants.’ However, the City will intervene if ‘unwelcome situations arise as a result of particular initiatives.’ It’s this continuous search for balance between the opportunities and the challenges that might well form part of the success of Amsterdam as a home for the sharing economy.
Access to palette of products and services
As the adage says: ‘practice what you preach.’ Which means the the municipality to not only gives spaces to the sharing economy, it also started with several pilot projects itself. From sharing transportation to sharing office spaces, the City started piloting with it. Another example, more about social inclusiveness, is a current pilot where the sharing economy is linked to the ‘City Pass.’ The City Pass gives 180,000 Amsterdam residents, many elderly or on low incomes, access to several services in the city. By linking the sharing economy to the City Pass, its holders will have access to even a greater and often more affordable palette of products and services, like local food, goods and care. It’s partly this leading position towards the sharing economy that made Amsterdam into the current European Capital of Innovation.’
Example for cities worldwide
Deputy mayor Ollongren quicky realized that Amsterdam turned into an example for cities worldwide. Putting ‘sharing’ in ‘sharing city’ she and her team took the initiative to invite befriended cities to come to Amsterdam in May 2016 to convene for two days and address both the opportunities and the challenges of the sharing economy and to collaborate on shared principles. It underlined Amsterdam’s position on the global sharing cities map, and led to a return invitation by the City of New York’s Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, inviting cities to come to New York City in 2017.
In the meantime, co-founder Pieter van de Glind and I kept on flying around the world, visiting cities like Berlin, Brussels, Copenhagen, Helsinki, London, Luxembourg, Madrid, Milan, Montreal, Oslo, Paris, Quito, Rome, Seoul, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and Toronto. Although we love to do this and will continue to frequent cities from all continents, we realized that this immense interest asked for more. Now working with cities already for years, we are well aware that there is a growing need to collaborate and continuously share experience. This is the reason why we built a global ‘Sharing Cities Alliance.’
Sharing Cities Alliance
The Sharing Cities Alliance is an independent foundation that fosters city-to-city learning and guides city governments from all continents, empowering them with relevant knowledge, network, and tailored advice necessary to continuously address the sharing economy, and improve the lives of its citizens. It is meant for cities that recognize the opportunities the sharing economy offers for more social, sustainable, and economically resilient cities. And are aware of that challenges like consumer and worker protection, market fairness, and regulation, are increasingly important deal with. The Alliance is also for cities that want to increase awareness within and outside of the city government, and that want to start developing strategies, setting priorities and exploring potential pilot projects. The Sharing Cities Alliance will be officially launched during the Sharing Cities Summit, May 18 in New York City. However, already several major cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Seoul, Toronto, and New York City committed to join the Alliance.
Sharing Cities Summit
Hosted by New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, the Sharing Cities Summit brings together 50+ senior policy makers, thought leaders, and industry executives from cities around the world to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the sharing economy as it takes on a more prominent role in urban life. On May 17, the summit will kickoff with a dinner, including expert speakers like professor Arun Sundararajan (Stern School of Business at New York University) and a panel session with sharing economy platform executives. On May 18, deputy mayors and city leaders from 20+ cities will convene to learn about, discuss, and share strategies related to collecting data and using it to drive policy decisions, empowering and protection of consumers and workers, ensuring market fairness for businesses, and preparing for the future impact of technology on labor trends. The goal is to help each other embrace the opportunities and confront the challenges that we are all facing related to the sharing economy. The cities that will be participating in the Sharing Cities Summit are Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Chicago, Copenhagen, Dallas, Ghent, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Madrid, Milan, Montreal, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seoul, Singapore, Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington DC.
Imagine the impact on 180,000,000 citizens
Both the Summit as well as the Alliance are platforms fostering an ongoing debate about the way forward for cities and its citizens. It would be beneficial when we realize that the sharing economy is still in its infancy. We should be very well aware of this. However, it is mindblowing when you realize the potential impact in case all the cities that take part in the Sharing Cities Summit would embrace and shape the sharing economy. If you would sum up the number of inhabitants of the metropolitan areas of these 23 global cities, you would be talking about more than 180,000,000 citizens. Imagine how our local communities would like if we are able to create an equilibrium in cities when it comes to the sharing economy. Where we develop this new phenomenon in a way that it is contributing to all players in the field. Where we gradually evolve from a sharing economy to a sharing society that is more sustainable, economic resilient and rich in social capital. And where a citizen becomes a sharing citizen. Imagine a city where we play with everything there is.’
- Harmen van Sprang, with Pieter van de Glind