12 policies that boost innovation, resilience, and prosperity in cities
Cities are dynamos of the global economy. Encouraging new ideas on transportation, food, housing, and jobs can make them even more vibrant.
Cities are rife with sharing opportunities. That's kind of the point of cities, when you think about it. Shared infrastructure, culture, and space are what make cities dynamos of the global economy.
And when citizens and governments plan a city together, an even more shareable city is possible. Increased innovation, resilience, and prosperity can follow.
Below are 12 policy ideas to consider for your city from Shareable and Sustainable Economies Law Center's just released 40-page guide, Policies for Shareable Cities: A Sharing Economy Policy Primer for Urban Leaders:
To paraphrase Rachel Botsman, you don't need a car, you need a ride. Enter the rise of access over ownership in the transportation sector. With car-sharing, ride-sharing, and bike-sharing taking hold, old-school public transit systems no longer have to bear so much of the burden of getting people around in cities.
Here are some policies that are taking shareable transportation to the next level:
1. DESIGNATED, DISCOUNTED, OR FREE PARKING FOR CARSHARING: Easy parking is consistently one of the most cited incentives by folks who share cars. They know they are special, and they appreciate it when cities acknowledge their effort. Washington, D.C., has had one of these programs in play since 2005, with San Francisco starting one this year.
2. CREATE ECONOMIC INCENTIVES FOR RIDE-SHARING: Sometimes cities need to wave a couple of carrots in order to get people to follow along. Ride-sharing is one of those instances. To overcome the presupposed inconveniences of the practice, economic incentives could be implemented, including high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, discounted parking, and reduced tolls.
3. ADOPT A CITYWIDE PUBLIC BIKE-SHARING PROGRAM: Quite a few cities have hopped on the bike-sharing bandwagon in recent years, and pretty much all of the other cities should, too. When access is noted as the biggest barrier to entry, fall back on the tried-and-true wisdom of Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come. Boston, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Washington, D.C., are all proof of that.
Food miles and security are two big issues facing cities today. How is Big Box Grocer going to feed the people down the line? It's not ... not completely, anyway. Local farms, community gardens, CSAs, and their ilk are picking up more and more of the local food slack. Cities can boost public health, build community, save energy, and reduce waste by supporting the local food movement.
4. FINANCIAL INCENTIVES TO ENCOURAGE URBAN AGRICULTURE ON VACANT LOTS: In every vacant lot, there is a community garden waiting to grow. Tax credits for the property owners could go a long way toward developing food sources, economic opportunity, and civic engagement in otherwise blighted areas. "Plus, you get strawberries," to quote urban agriculture hero Ron Finley. Philadelphia has already implemented a successful program in this category.
5. CREATE FOOD-GLEANING CENTERS AND PROGRAMS: The amount of food wasted from farm to grocer to table adds up to about 40 percent of the total. Why not encourage the food producers and distributors to redistribute the not-perfect products to those in need? Iowa City, Iowa, got some USDA funding to set up its food-gleaning operation.
6. MOBILE FOOD VENDING: Even though food trucks seem to be taking over some cities, the launching of such a venture is a really big deal. If restrictions were loosened a bit, those mobile vendors might be willing to serve a wider demographic and make food deserts a thing of the past. Look no further than Chicago and Austin, Texas, to see this idea in action.
Like food, housing is one of the basic necessities of life. We experience it from an early age through our families as something shared. Cities can extend shared housing beyond family and benefit greatly from stronger communities and more affordable housing.
7. SUPPORT THE DEVELOPMENT OF COOPERATIVE HOUSING: Rents in major metropolitan areas are, quite frankly, ridiculously high. By banding together, like-minded residents can usually get more bang for their buck. Cities should see that as a good thing.
8. ENCOURAGE THE DEVELOPMENT OF SMALL APARTMENTS AND “TINY” HOMES: Municipal codes often include size restrictions for housing units that prohibit things like micro-apartments, tiny houses, yurts, and container homes — all of which are affordable, sustainable, shareable options. San Francisco recently amended its public policy to allow these units.
9. FACTOR SHARING INTO THE DESIGN REVIEW OF NEW DEVELOPMENTS: Forward-thinking urban planning is vital to creating a Shareable City. Housing that encourages resident interaction and properties that include mixed-use units both start with a smart design, as evidenced in London Grove Township, Penn.
Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! The sharing economy has a lot of potential to create jobs if only cities would help with policies to "lower the cost of starting businesses by supporting innovations like shared workspaces, shared commercial kitchens, community-financed startups, community-owned commercial centers, and spaces for 'pop-up' businesses." Oh, and cooperatives ... they create high paying jobs that don't leave the community and are more resilient.
10. EXPAND ALLOWABLE HOME OCCUPATIONS TO INCLUDE SHARING ECONOMY ENTERPRISE: The zoning codes that separate home life from commercial life — thereby making it illegal for many people to generate income at home — needs to go. Full stop.
11. USE IDLE COMMERCIAL SPACES FOR COMMUNITY BENEFIT: The ratio of empty houses to homeless people is enough of a problem. Let cities not run the same game on commercial spaces. Instead, how about policies that facilitate the use of empty commercial spaces by startups in order to test products and services without a huge overhead and lease? Newcastle, Australia, and Richmond, Calif., boast two examples of this policy.
12. ASSIST COOPERATIVES THROUGH CITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENTS: Local jobs, local money — that's what cooperatives are all about. Every city should provide support staff and resources to help folks wanting to set up a co-op. It's just good business. Cleveland and Madison, Wis., agree.
Read or download the full report to get even more ideas to support sharing in your city.