In the last decade we have observed an increasing number of people in cities around the world staying in other people’s homes using Airbnb, joining strangers for a ride with BlaBlaBla car, renting city bikes to run errands or do sightseeing, or even borrowing garden tools from a neighbour. Digital technology helps us connect with strangers and borrow their homes, cars, tools, clothes, accessories and toys. It also helps us offer items we do not use often for others to use.

Many goods stay idle for most of their lifetime. For example, an average European car is used for only 29 minutes per day. This means that over an average 12 year lifetime the car is used in total for only 3 months. Households own an increasing number of products and equipment, much of which is rarely used. In the UK and the US the items that people use less than once a month amount to 80% of all the items owned, and 30% of clothes bought by British households are never worn. Other developed countries show similar trends.

The fact that our possessions stay idle for most of the time is called “the idling capacity”, and the sharing economy is one way to capitalise on this. ‘Sharing’, ‘sharing economy’, ‘peer to peer economy’ and ‘collaborative consumption’ are just some terms used to describe a variety of bottom-up initiatives, public-private-people partnerships, business start-ups and local government schemes, all of which utilise the idling capacity of our material world.

With increasing urbanisation, cities face numerous sustainability challenges. The major ones include climate change, pollution, waste generation, resource use, social segregation, unemployment and poverty. To address these challenges many city governments work with a variety of different approaches, one of which is ‘the sharing economy’. Municipalities play an important role in shaping the landscape of the sharing economy. They often define the conditions for success or failure of sharing organisations.

But how do city governments engage with the sharing economy? Which governance mechanisms do they employ and which roles do they play?

Based on our research in Amsterdam, Berlin, Gothenburg, London, Malmö and San Francisco, it is possible to define five principal mechanisms in which municipalities govern the sharing economy. These include: regulating, self-governing, providing, enabling and collaborating. Each of these mechanisms includes several governance roles through which municipalities engage with and shape the sharing economy in cities. In total, we identify 12 governance roles.

The Urban Sharing team is currently working on an article that identifies and describes the governance mechanisms and roles through which municipalities engage with the sharing economy. The article will explain each mechanism and role, and exemplify them with empirical evidence from the six case study cities. This article will be presented during the upcoming international workshops in Kyiv, Ukraine, in April 2019, and in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in June 2019, and will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. Further information will be provided through this website.

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