On 26 June - 29 June 2019 I have participated in the 4th International Conference of the Global Research Forum on Sustainable Production and Consumption called “Transforming Production and Consumption: Bridging Sustainability Research with Policy and Practice” that took place in Hong Kong and was hosted by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST).
I have presented on the topic “Sharing City Seoul: towards a citizen-led sharing economy?” (Jung and Mont 2019), literature reviewfor which was conducted by Taein Jung (Jung 2018), a Master of Science candidate at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics.
In many ways Seoul is a unique case, where the sharing economy has not been evolving organically, but has been driven by Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) as a strategic programme - a top-down sharing city model. Sharing solutions are seen as a means of tackling local problems. From the outset of the program the ambition of the SMG was to stimulate and organise a private-led sharing economy through active citizen participation, while the SMG would in time assume a more supporting and partnership role. However concerns have been raised that many actors in Seoul still lack awareness about the program or that the successful sharing organisations are run by or with heavy support by the SMG. It seems from existing literature and published public communication of the SMG that SMG still occupies a central role in the Sharing City Seoul and that transferring the ownership for the program to private sector or making it a citizen-led initiative remains a challenge.
In order to better understand and classify mechanisms that the Seoul Metropolitan Government is using for governing the sharing economy in the city we used a framework developed by by Zvolska, Lehner et al. (2018), drawing on (Bulkeley and Kern 2006)and (Kern and Alber 2008). This framework conceptualized different roles that city governments could adopt in governing the sharing economy: city as regulator, city as provider city as enabler and city as consumer. While city as regulator and provider are seen as more active forms of governance, city as enabler and consumer are seen as relatively benign forms of governance (Zvolska, Lehner et al. 2018). These four roles are not mutually exclusive and may be employed simultaneously (Bulkeley and Kern 2006).
In early years, the original aspiration of the Seoul Metropolitan Government was to act as a regulator and provider to the sharing economy. The task was to develop a favourable regulatory environment and develop infrastructure that would facilitate the sharing economy organisations to start up and grow. For example, the Sharing Promotion Ordinance was shortly enacted in December 2012 which set the formal structure and allocated budget for the sharing city initiative. However, a number of legal issues remain that are of importance for the success of private sector-driven sharing businesses and even more so for the transition to citizen-led sharing economy.
In its role of “provider”, the Seoul Metropolitan Governmentoffers financial and infrastructural support to sharing organisations. The SMG has a funding programme that aims to foster the development of sharing organisations. In addition, it provides technical support through third-party organisations. SMG also hosts and/or operates the most successful sharing organisations, e.g. public bicycle schemes and car sharing.
In our framework one of the important governance mechanism is when a city acts as a “consumer”, i.e. when a city uses sharing practices in its own operations or shares municipality-owned assets among municipal units. So far we were not been able to find examples that SMG engages in such types of activities. This is somewhat surprising since we have identified a number of such activities in cities, including London (the UK) and Malmö (Sweden).
When city government acts as an “enabler”, it encourages engagement from private sectors and grassroot communities by facilitating the networking between stakeholders, forming partnerships and raising awareness among the actors and the public at large. SMG acts as an enabler when it endorses sharing initiatives, engages with the ShareHub and operates physical networking spaces, such as Seoul Youth Hub.
To summarise, the Seoul Metropolitan Governmentsteers the direction of the Sharing City Seoulproject with a combination of different governance mechanisms. The role of SMG as the “provider” is most visible as the government operates a wide array of sharing initiatives in partnerships with district Gu’s. The visibility of formal structure dedicated to the sharing economy also adds to the impression that the SMG is most active in its role as a provider.
This work is the first step for exploring the sharing economy landscape in Seoul in the frame of the Urban Sharing project. We are planning to focus on Seoul much more actively in 2021 and come to Seoul with our Mobile Research Lab in spring followed by 1 month stay by me in summer 2021.
1. Bulkeley, H. and K. Kern (2006). "Local government and the governing of climate change in Germany and the UK." Urban studies43(12): 2237-2259.
2. Jung, T. (2018). Sharing City Seoul: Transition to a citizen-led sharing economy. Lund University, IIIEE: 35.
3. Jung, T. and O. Mont (2019). Sharing City Seoul: towards a citizen-led sharing economy? the 4th International Conference of the Global Research Forum on Sustainable Production and Consumption. Hong Kong: 12.
4. Kern, K. and G. Alber (2008). Governing Climate Change in Cities: Modes of Urban Climate Governance in Multi-Level Systems. Paris, OECD: 171–196.
5. Zvolska, L., M. Lehner, Y. Voytenko Palgan, O. Mont and A. Plepys (2018). "Urban Sharing in Smart Cities: the cases of Berlin and London." Local Environment: 1-18.