By Ananda Groag & Samantha van den Bos

Last week our Flemish Samantha, who has a soft G pronunciation and Dutch Ananda with a typical Dutch hard G pronunciation travelled from Groningen in the North of the Netherlands to Gent in Belgium together. They set out on their journey to share knowledge in these two cities with each their own identity. 

In Groningen, the Let's Gro innovation festival took place throughout the whole city with multiple citizens’ initiatives showcasing their ideas and projects, and inspiring talks from (international) experts. A 4-day-festival dedicated to the future of the city. The municipality thought it would be a much smarter way to shape the future of the city together with citizens, organizations and companies in the form of a festival, than writing a report of the future strategy in their 'ivory towers'. Ananda and Sam gave a duo presentation about the sharing economy and followed up with a fruitful session of the sharing city game. All of it against the backdrop of the Martinitoren on the main square, visible through the transparent tent roof. The sharing city game was played this time with a small, yet very engaged group, well tuned into their role. 

MO-VE was the result and Sharing City solution to the problems of the fictitious ‘Blijmerdam’ city.  A concept that tackled multiple challenges at once! Local entrepreneurs, the working class living in the suburbs, the student community and newcomers in the city were all involved and benefited directly. 

As we like to practise what we preach, Samantha and Ananda stayed in an Airbnb in Groningen. "Wow, it already feels like coming home", Ananda said when they were in front of the door. The host Ineke made sure it was a perfect experience. Her kids were grown and had left the house, her husband passed away three years ago and she wanted to fill the emptiness in the once lively house. Getting travellers over from all over the world brings the house alive for her, and she loves being a host! Also, with one income less, the extra money was very welcome, she said. For the shareNL team the experience was so much more warm and homely than in a hotel, it was truly a win-win situation. 

The travel modus was sharing a car, borrowed from a Sam’s neighbour and friend. No platform involved. A true people-to-people ‘transaction’. There is something magic about sharing a car together. Spending some time in an intimate setting, a 'closed capsule' for hours makes stories become more personal. It’s a great teambuilding activity ;) No wonder that once you try ridesharing, you get hooked. 

Arrived in Ghent in the evening, the shareNL ladies enjoyed dinner with our Belgian friends from and other experts from different cities in Europe, who would inspire the audience at SelfCity Ghent. The event took place in a building with a rich history very much connected to the topic of the evening. De Vooruit - which was well known by Sam being one of the places where she partied until early morning hours in her early 20’s – used to be a Cooperative created by and for the working class in the late 19th century. Nowadays the place it’s a cultural hot spot in the city of Ghent hosting art exhibitions, dance parties, seminars, and offers a place for debate. That evening Samantha presented the vibrant Amsterdam Sharing City ecosystem with all it’s different actors shaping the future of the city and she talked about the power of platforms. There was a lively debate after the presentations including three Belgian experts, Tine De Moor, Dirk Holemans and Koen Wynants and two other international guests, Peter MacFayden (Flatpack Democracy) and Lars Ove Kvalbein (Transition Network Bergen). The discussions were mostly about the role of the government and citizens in the process of city-making, and also the sharing economy’s controversies coloured the evening: “social or efficient”, “capitalism or cooperativism”?

This time the shareNL duo stayed at a friendly city centre hostel. After a lot of streethowling by nightwalkers and a lot of tossing and turning, they finally fell asleep. The morning after it was Ananda's turn to present. The opening keynote of the Inspiration Day Sustainable Mobility to set the scene. The start of a day full of inspiration, research data about shared mobility. It was great to hear some good examples in sustainable mobility and learn about Ghent's progressive mobility plan including audacious stimulating regulation for car sharing. In a session about proof, the expertise from The Car Sharing Association in the USA was called upon via Skype. This, combined with the knowledge of CarPlus from the UK and Dutch data expert Friso Metz, nobody could deny the potential of car sharing anymore. 

The shareNL ladies got terribly stuck in the infamous traffic jam around Antwerpen on their way home, in the tradition of Homo Flandriens (great video!), and realised once again they were quite lucky to be able to bike around their hometown Amsterdam and not having to spend so many hours behind the steering wheel.