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Learn about this traditional style of natural bee hive and how to construct one.
Kicking off Mesh2013 at a niftty Airbnb rental in San Francisco. Credit: Kevin Krejci.
Imagine an event where every conversation is interesting, where everyone you meet wants to help you. That was Mesh2013. And because of this quality, it was a rare success as a social experience.
A two-day event held at the end of April, Mesh2013 did for the attendees what “mesh” used as a verb implies: It, to borrow a word from Marina Gorbis’ new book, The Nature of the Future, “socialstructed” a new community focused on accelerating the sharing economy.
While there were incredible speakers -- including Seth Godin, Paul Hawken, Steven Berlin Johnson, Dale Dougherty, and Robin Chase -- it was the many interactions with other attendees and the artfully crafted social experiences that made Mesh2013 so useful, memorable, and bonding for me.
If the medium is the message, then this says a lot about the messenger, Lisa Gansky and her MeshLabs, who hosted the event. The gestalt of the event effused love, care, humor, and fun. This is a welcome difference from many events which can feel steely and impersonal, and leave you feeling depleted. I left uplifted. And a little overwhelmed with all the good!
Steven Johnson and Robin Chase share laughs at Mesh2013. Credit: Lisa Gansky.
Below are the themes that spoke to me at Mesh2013, and some reflections on how Lisa Gansky pulled off a tour de force of socialstructing:
· What’s in a name? Everything, at least if you were at Mesh. All attendees agreed that there’s an important shift happening and that sharing and peer production are at the heart of it. As Nick Grossman wrote in a post about the event, this change is “powered by us.” What attendees didn’t agree on is what to call this shift. (Sharing, peer, access, or collaborative economy? Take your pick.) People tended to use the sharing economy in discussion, but more as a placeholder. There were widespread doubts that "sharing economy" would play well in Kansas or Congress. People saw the lexical challenge as a practical barrier to such activities as advocacy and public awareness. This came up again and again in the plenary sessions, as well as the breakouts I was in. No solution emerged, but there was a consensus about the challenge.
· Resilience thinking. As much as sharing saves resources, this trend wasn’t couched in terms of sustainability. It seems we’ve moved on. But to what? Resilience, defined as the ability to bounce back from crisis. This says a lot about the times we live in. First, this shift from sustainability to resilience thinking is smart because it’s pointless to strive for stasis as the word “sustain” can imply. All systems go through cycles of growth, decline, and reorganization. We need to design our lives, organizations, cities, and societies with this with this complex adaptive cycle in mind. The focus on resilience at Mesh2013 and elsewhere tells me that systems thinking is penetrating more deeply into our consciousness.
Second, it says that we’ve truly grokked that we live in a time of profound crisis, and we’re actually identifying with it. The panel on resilience, and especially the presentation by Airbnb’s Molly Turner, showed how the sharing economy can increase the resilience of cities. She explained how Airbnb, their members, and New York City worked together to provide free housing for thousands of people left homeless by Hurricane Sandy. In this case, Airbnb leveraged the spare housing capacity at their fingertips to help people in need. It’s a fascinating model of resilience that could be duplicated in other areas of the sharing economy like ride- and car-sharing.
· Scale and acceleration. The whole purpose of Mesh was to build a community to scale and accelerate the sharing economy. So, as you’d expect, keynotes focused on this. Steven Johnson talked about themes from his new book, Future Perfect. What stuck with me was what he’s researching now – how "translational medicine" accelerates the diffusion of medical innovations into society. He related that attendees where translational economists working to smuggle the sharing economy into the mainstream. Robin Chase gave a convincing, data-packed presentation that showed the deep trouble we’re in with global warming (even the conservative World Bank is worried) and how open sourcing the solution is the only way to meet the challenge. She quoted Banny Banerjee of Stanford’s d. school: “You can’t solve exponential problems with linear solutions.” She urged people to design solutions that leverage excess capacity, foster participation, and result in cooperative gain.
And how did Mesh pull off such a good job at socialstructing? The first step was the intention to create a community rather than merely host an event. Mesh curated an accomplished group of people for this. They also did some thoughtful matchmaking. They brought together all the types of capital needed for innovation -- human, social, and financial. The people I met had substantial resources ready to be combined in useful ways with what others brought.
And Mesh kept it small, about 200 people, which is in line with the Dunbar number – the theoretical limit of a well-functioning face-to-face community. In addition, the organizers encouraged attendees to come as you are -- as people, not as roles. These basic ingredients set the stage for authentic connection.
Mesh built on this by creating many opportunities to socialize. The opening mixer was at an architect’s home on Portrero Hill in San Francisco rented from Airbnb. The informality of a house party, shareable-style, was a fitting way to start. After day one, there was a fabulous group dinner in a warehouse art gallery inspired by the Big Lunch with plenty of space and time to mingle.
The heart of each day was the breakout groups, also potent connectors. Everyone was pre-assigned to a session on a broad theme like power, which was my group. Skilled “docents” lead groups through two days of discussion on assigned themes. In my case, the theme presented the group a lot of ambiguity, which resulted in a more interesting discussion and better personal connections as people explored their positions together. In fact, I’d say that the personal connections trumped the impressive intellectual output, a surprising outcome for a conference breakout group.
My favorite socialstructing moment was when we each sewed a panel for a kimono in an example of flow state learning. There I was with Lisa Gansky, Robin Chase, and Mark Dwight (CEO of Rickshaw Bagworks) sewing a kimono together, bloodying my finger tips, and admiring the creativity of my peers. It was strange, refreshing, and memorable. And there’s nothing like making something together to bond people, whether it’s a kimono or a movement.
Check out the day one and two videos of Mesh2013:
Everyone knows the odds of winning in a casino are worse than 50% (often much worse depending on the game played). So who wouldn't rush to a casino, where instead, the odds were overwhelmingly in the gambler's favor?
That's the promise of today's stock market, which has been experiencing an aberrantly high percentage of up days all year. Toss your money into the market, and on any given day, you're much likelier to make money than not.
I often compare the evolution of exchange alternatives to the development of aviation. Just as many early attempts to fly were clumsy and poorly informed by good science, so too have been many early attempts to create private and community currencies. But much has been learned over the past three decades, and conditions are ripe for major advances in our ability to rise above antiquated and dysfunctional means of payment. My role is to guide the design and implementation of community based currencies and trade exchanges that enable general prosperity and a stable and sustainable economy.
During my upcoming tour of Europe I will be speaking about the power of community currencies and mutual credit, and consulting with communities on doing good things where they are.
With still two weeks to go, our Crowdfunding campaign is now more than halfway toward our goal. Thanks for your support, and please help spread the word. Our campaign site is http://igg.me/at/tomstour/x/31801.
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A great summary and loads of information about how to dehydrate and store foods without power.
Also check out the WSID article on building a solar dehydrator for use harmonyguy: http://www.peakprosperity.com/wsidblog/80527/building-solar-dehydrator
- Opinion: Sell financial advice or products, not both
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- William Kaye: Founder, Vice Chairman and Senior Managing Director of the Pacific Alliance Group of Companie
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- The Vicious New Bank Shakedown That Could Seriously Ruin Your Life
- Student Debt and the Crushing of the American Dream
- Brits Are Now Poorer Than The French, Swiss, Belgians, Swedes, Austrians, Aussies And Canadians
- Six-figure salaries no draw as young workers shun Canada’s oil and gas sector for ‘sexier’ industries
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- Which way will the Alberta oil pipeline go after Christy Clark’s win?
- Commander Hadfield Shows Us What Science Communication Could Be. Visually.
- Maps show impact of overcutting old-growth forests, conservation groups say
Since I started delivering this message, I've held a vision of the day when it instead elicits knowing nods because its truths have become self-evident. My proudest day will be when there's no more need to communicate the core ideas in the Crash Course because they'll already be common knowledge.
I cannot wait for the day when, literally, I'll have talked myself out of a job.
Well, we're one very important step closer to that day.
Report on the Local Currency Gathering at Seville, Spain
The “Encuentro de Monedas Locales" (Local Currency Gathering) took place from Thu, 09th to Sun, 12th May 2013 at Seville, Andalusia, Spain. 136 people from Spain’s 9 autonomous communities (Andalus...
Imagine a gathering where people with different backgrounds listen to each other's specific challenges, then crowdsource a range of possible solutions. Now imagine this pool of knowledge being comprised of cities, bringing together key representatives to share information across boundaries, and you'd find yourself at the Living Labs Global Awards (LLGA) Cities Pilot the Future Summit.
This week, representatives from 22 cities gathered at Fort Mason in San Francisco to engage in a dialogue about the problems cities are facing and to come up with creative solutions to these problems. What sets the LLGA Cities Summit apart from the usual urban conferences is that the exchanges are all devoted to bringing about tangible, real world results through hands-on collaborations.
Inspired by last year's Rio+20 conference and the desire to turn that momentum into action, cities from London to Lavasa and from Sant Cugat to San Francisco committed to openly sharing their problems, which were presented through the Citymart platform to urban innovators from around the world who drew up 546 solutions over the last nine months. During Tuesday's Cities Dialogue session, the exchanges culminated in the announcement of the final match-ups that will be piloted immediately.
Here are three of them:
- Eindhoven in The Netherlands sought solutions to better share public facilities, link citizens with current activities, and help people share new initiatives. It found its solution in Connecthings' contactless tags bridging the real and virtual worlds that will be installed on street furniture and public spaces where people can find out anything from bus schedules to upcoming events in their neighborhood.
- The City of Maringá, confronted with the problem of rising car ownership among its residents due to a booming economy in Brazil, is looking for a new system of transportation that could replace the automobile, and in the words of former mayor Silvio Magalhaes Barros II, "make the city as comfortable as it was before people got so rich." Clever Devices’ Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), a comprehensive information streamlining system making existing mass transit more reliable, comfortable, and safe for people, is just what the city needed.
- Barcelona is looking for ways to revitalize vacant neighborhood spaces, with a particular focus on social inclusion and community involvement. UK charity 3Space's innovative, community driven empty shops projects, giving communities temporary use of empty properties until the landlord needs them for commercial purposes, is the perfect partner to bring theaters, art galleries, rehearsal spaces, and other creative projects to these neighborhoods, empowering local residents as well as helping property owners with building upkeep.
While leveraging new technologies plays an important role in connecting people and finding creative ways to use space and resources, Barcelona's Deputy Mayor Sonja Recasens pointed out the importance of community involvement and direct people-to-people interaction. The key question, as moderator Dr. Anthony Townsend of the Institute for the Future noted, is how to tap citizens to be service providers for each other.
Lavasa's (India) City Manager Scot Wrighton struck a similar note, saying that their challenge of integrating indigenous, low-income people into the social and economic fabric of the city called for more of an organizational than technological solution. He found LabourNet's experience with setting up training centers where local youth can develop business skills to be the perfect match for their need.
Citymart also connects cities directly with each other. By sharing their creative thinking and technologies, cities not only broaden the user base for their innovative ideas and speed up development, but they benefit from making new connections and forming lasting relationships with their fellow stakeholders.
Last year, for example, Cape Town selected the City of York's GeniUs community innovation platform, a mechanism to have conversations and co-develop solutions with businesses, academics and the community, and has since begun to develop its own pilot. Similarly, the City of Stockholm has been able to improve E-adept, an enabling solution to increase pedestrian accessibility for people with mobility challenges, by allowing other cities to "test-drive" it. Each addition to the collective knowledge base not only helps existing users refine their own application of these platforms, but makes it easier and cheaper for new adopters to launch and operate.
Back in San Francisco, the urban explorers from around the world gathered for a matchmaking summit on day two before going on field trips to marvel at some of San Francisco's most innovative urban solutions on the last day. The innovation workshop tour took visitors to local incubators like TUMML, wework, The Hub, and TechShop. The renewable energy tour included a potential wind power site on Twin Peaks and California’s largest urban solar installation at the Sunset Reservoir.
A third tour led through San Francisco's vast world of people-centered micro projects on public and vacant land. From the roaming food truck extravaganza of Off the Grid and on-street parking spaces converted into parklets to citizen-driven projects like Proxy, a shipping container environment turned retail space, and Hayes Valley Farm, a city-funded and volunteer driven 2.2 acre urban farm on a former freeway ramp, there were plenty of creative solutions to glean.
The lesson we can all take away from this ambitious experiment is that each individual and community holds a part of the solution. All too often these kernels aren't visible until they are thrown into a larger pot where they can find the matching pieces. It's through that exchange that an idea can grow into something larger and travel to where it's most needed. And when a good idea finally reaches its destinations, everybody wins.
As Detroit recovers from staggering unemployment due to the mass exodus of the auto industry, small business creation is now being touted by many locals as a better solution for resiliency, higher wages and employment stability than big business recruitment. But starting a new business from a dream with little business experience can be daunting, especially without the capital to carry you through early mistakes.
In the life of a new, start-up business owner, there are many hurdles, big and small. For a food entrepreneur who is trying to look beyond "profit, profit, profit" models of the past, hurdles can seem like mountains, especially if you're going at it on your own. From licensing and distribution channels to fair labor standards and nutritional quality, there are a myriad of challenging, technical issues to address.
In Detroit, food entrepreneurs have come together via an organization called FoodLab Detroit to share resources, experiences, and ideas in hopes of making new models of business more sustainable and just. Together we are working to create a diverse ecosystem of triple-bottom-line food businesses as part of a good food movement that is accountable to all Detroiters. Fair wages and democratic workplaces are on the agenda of many of the businesses as a part of the solution. Members participate by going through a start-up training program and supporting each other as they learn and grow.
For the past three months, FoodLab Detroit has run our second annual “Building Your Good Food Business” Bootcamp. Participants co-learned around five main topics- visioning, community ecosystems, triple bottom line accounting, sustainability tools, and relationship building. Throughout the sessions, over 25 expert community members contributed their skills and knowledge to the conversation, resulting in new ideas and collaborations. Many of the graduates appreciate the peer support network resulting from going through the program together, which helps nurture their businesses post-graduation and creates a feeling of solidarity.
On April 2nd, community leaders, established business owners, friends, family, and allies gathered for a celebration of our trainees featuring (of course) delicious food. Each of the 18 Foodlab graduates created a visual display of their business, incorporating their business vision and triple bottom line principles. Nearly 100 guests wandered through the space, asking questions and tasting samples of the businesses’ products.
The open-house celebration was a celebration of the greater FoodLab community that extends beyond just businesses. People who chatted with business owners got a better sense of how they are working to create social change through responsible and creative business practices. It allowed FoodLab graduates, many of whom do not have ready access to traditional means of capital, to make connections with potential supporters. One graduate who is hoping to open a small sliders restaurant said she “felt like a legit business” after getting encouragement from the community at the event.
Our April 2nd celebration also served as a recruitment/networking event for our "Kitchen Connect" project, developed in partnership with Detroit’s Eastern Market Corporation. For many of our businesses, the next step in development is becoming licensed in a commercial kitchen space. Kitchen Connect will be the management hub for a network of existing, licensed kitchen spaces in organizations across the city. We hope that sharing these spaces and making them more financially and physically accessible will help early stage businesses to succeed us and help us move toward greater equality in the food entrepreneurial community.
Although Greenpoint, Brooklyn, isn't known as a hotbed for sustainable agriculture, that's not stopping Gotham Greens from making a name for themselves. Using renewable energy sources to power their sterile greenhouses, Gotham Greens set up shop on the Greenpoint Wood Exchange rooftop a few years back with the goal of providing fresh, high-quality produce and herbs to local markets and restaurants.
Founders Viraj Puri and Eric Haley teamed with greenhouse expert Jenn Nelkin to develop the facility and protocols needed to grow year-round in New York City. Utilizing a combination of recirculating hydroponics and climate control systems, Gotham Greens has been harvesting bounties of lettuce, basil, chard, tomatoes, bok choy, and myriad other delights since 2011 -- and in quantities 20-30 times greater per acre than their field-based counterparts while using 20 times less water and producing no agricultural run-off.
Gotham Greens isn't the only savvy greenhouse farm on the proverbial block -- Will Allen's Milwaukee-based Growing Power also does amazing work. Still, Whole Foods Market was impressed enough with Gotham Greens to partner with the rooftop farmers on their new site in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The 20,000 square foot retail store and rooftop greenhouse is slated to open this Fall providing shoppers with access to truly local, sustainably grown produce. The partnership slashes the food miles and associate carbon footprint that normally comes with shipping food long distances from growers in California and Mexico. As Puri noted, "This project takes the discussion from food miles to food footsteps."
Christina Minardi, WFM Northeast Regional President, added, “We’re particularly excited to partner with a local organization with roots right here in Brooklyn and a mission in line with our own, in that we both care deeply about providing local, fresh and sustainably produced food.”
Gotham Greens from Dark Rye on Vimeo. Gotham Greens is the first commercial-scale rooftop hydroponic greenhouse in the world. By going vertical in the city, Gotham Greens is using less water, eliminating pesticides, putting an end to fertilizer runoff, and leading the way to a sustainable agriculture future in the sky.
Participatory budgeting has come a long way from Porto Alegre, Brazil, circa 1989. Today, more than 1,500 cities around the world have implemented the PB process, including San Francisco, California; Chicago, Illinois; Toronto, Ontario; Vallejo, California; and New York City, New York.
In a nutshell, PB allows citizens to suggest, formulate, vote on, and implement projects within their own communities. It's a way to educate and engage people at a grassroots, truly democratic level. So far, more than 60 PB projects -- things like bike lanes, community gardens, street lights, and playgrounds -- have received over $10 million in funding.
Though Shareable has covered a lot of PB ground, one of the main hubs for the model in North America is the Participatory Budgeting Project. Meerkat Media, the producers of PBP's new video, has submitted the piece to the MacArthur Foundation's Looking@Democracy contest. You can vote to help the PB movement win some of the $100,000 in prizes. The intro video was a priority result of the PBP's own internal participatory budgeting process.
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Obamacare is changing the game of private health insurance, but private health insurers are still in it to make profit. And while they are in the game, they will do their best to rig the game in their favor. Ask anyone who has had a significant health problem. So why do we continue to give control over health care and our money away to companies that don't have our interests at heart in a matter that is literally life and death?
I wanted to look at alternative, community-based models and see if they actually work. One model is the Ithaca Health Fund, operated by the Ithaca Health Alliance since 1997. This nonprofit, inspired by the Canadian health system and the Amish Church Aid self-insurance program, runs several health-related programs. The Ithaca Health Fund reimburses medical costs for certain categories of preventive and emergency health care and its free clinic provides conventional and complementary primary care visits to the uninsured, as well as classes and a newsletter on preventative medicine. They rely on member fees and grants for funding and local college students to fill the many needed volunteer roles.
Ithaca Health AllianceThe Ithaca Health Fund was challenged by the New York State government as an noncompliant health insurance provider but restructured to work around the laws partly by making “grants” to uninsured patients, rather than reimbursements and restricting their boundaries to New York State. They are still struggling to get official nonprofit status from the federal government even though they are a charitable organization that depends significantly on grants to meet the needs of its low income clients while maintaining fee levels that they can still afford.
Even more intriguing was my encounter with PEACH (Preservation of Equity Accessible for Community Health) at Sandhill Farm in rural Missouri. On a visit there, I asked the residents of this intentional community how they made it without health insurance and they glowed about the benefits and low cost of PEACH. I recently interviewed PEACH's initiator, Laird Schaub, about this little known program to get the inside scoop.
Read more here
My serious note: Normally, I send cartoons to inspire people to support SELC, and this email is no exception. But on a more serious note, I want to say that SELC has historically gotten a lot of important work done with almost no wiggle room in our budget. In October, when a group of Chinese-American farmers got hit with heartbreaking fines that threatened to shut down their farms and way of life, SELC jumped in to advocate for the farmers, and we've been involved ever since. We didn't feel we had the time or resources to help the farmers, but we did anyway, because the incident has broad implications. That's how SELC works. We just dive in and do stuff when it really matters and when it will have a big impact. In the long run, we really can't do this without building a solid base of individual supporters, and I'm emailing because I'm hoping you will become part of that base.
And below are 12 videos to get you inspired about SELC. Also, attached are lists of our 2011 and 2012 accomplishments (one of which features 20 cartoon drawings).
- Raising Dough: A silly 45-second video about our work to raise money this week.
- A Day in the Life of SELC: A fun 43-second video depicting a day in the life of SELC.
- Legal Roots of Resilience: A 4-minute cartoon about legal barriers to creating resilient communities.
- Housing for an Economically Sustainable Future: 8-minute cartoon about cooperative housing law.
- Economy Sandwich: A 9-minute cartoon all about the legal grey areas that arise in the sharing economy.
- Citylicious: A 9-minute cartoon all about legal issues that arise in connection to urban agriculture.
- Share Spray: A fun 5-minute animation about how sharing will transform the world, made in collaboration with the Center for a New American Dream.
- Legal Eats: A 14-part video series on legal topics relevant to starting a community-based food enterprise, made in collaboration with the Green Collar Communities Clinic - featuring more cartoons!
- Think Outside the Boss: An 8-part video series on legal topics relevant to starting a worker cooperative, made in collaboration with the Green Collar Communities Clinic - featuring more cartoons!
- Community Renewable Energy Webinar: An hour-long webinar on creating community-owned renewable energy projects.
- The Legal Landscape of Social Enterprise and the Sharing Economy - featuring SELC's co-founders Jenny Kassan and Janelle Orsi - featuring more cartoons!
- Mr. Bread Tells the Story of the California Homemade Food Act: A 90-second movie featuring talking bread with googly eyes. Yes, SELC staff do get a little silly sometimes.
Janelle Orsi, Executive Director
Sustainable Economies Law Center
436 14th Street, Suite 1120, Oakland, CA 94612
SELC's New Book: Practicing Law in the Sharing Economy (ABA Books 2012)
I was first drawn into the rental economy as a broke and car-less college student. Through my University, I received a free code for a year-long membership of Zipcar’s carsharing service. Now, six years later I am still using Zipcar but I have branched out to other car rental services like RelayRides for additional vehicle choices. I am also using Airbnb to find lodging, Netflix to watch movies, and Spinlister to find bicycles. In college, I simply couldn’t afford to buy a car, stay in a hotel, or own 100 DVDs so the rental option was an economic necessity. Now as a yuppie in Boston, I’m certainly less thrifty but with thousands of dollars in student debt I’ve really bought into the idea of “access over ownership”. This is where the Rental Economy 2.0 comes in.
The Rental Economy 2.0
This new era in the rental industry is defined by the use of social networks and mobile technology to decentralize and ultimately improve access to common consumer goods. This matching of our real-time, online world with our tangible goods in real life is making it easier than ever to rent.
So far in my year of the Sharing Economy, I have spent a lot of time trying to understand what services exist and which ones could apply to my own life. After doing some initial research, I quickly became overwhelmed with just the number of carsharing companies that existed (73 that I found globally). This was going to be a long process so I enlisted the help of a TaskRabbit named Maria. She helped me to identify over 320 companies in the “sharing-space” and categorize them into different industry segments. Collectively, we found 138 companies that were specific to Rental Economy 2.0. Carsharing was easily the largest segment (53%) while the rest (47%) was extremely varied, ranging from books, to housing, to fashion, to media and more.
Renting Broad and Shallow or Narrow and Deep
The most immediate trend I noticed was that there were two types of companies, those that rented everything and those that focused on renting specific niche items. I found that I prefer the narrow and deep companies because you’ll have a better chance of finding what you need. I don’t often shop for dresses, but I know that Girl Meets Dress is a company that rents out designer dresses. With over 4,000 dresses, they are a leading online luxury dress rental company. So if I needed to rent a dress, I’d go there, no problem. Their offering is clear and focused.
Additionally, if I needed construction equipment, I’d go to Getable, a company that was started by a Tufts Graduate (Go Jumbos!) and focuses specifically on the needs of residential and commercial construction. Due to their focus, it is very easy to gain access to the specific item that you need.
Alternatively, there are websites that allow you to rent anything and everything. I found these sites to be very difficult to use. I found a generator on one site, but it was in Anchorage, Alaska (I live in Boston). On another site, I found three power drills but they were hours away in western Massachusetts. In both cases, these sites were too diverse to really offer me any benefit. One “rent-everything” site that I might consider using in the future is Share Some Sugar. They allow you to rent anything, but they focus on the peer connections that are necessary to share locally. The site is also very easy to navigate.
Another service I would consider is Frents. They rent everything from cars to Blu Ray players to baby toys. After browsing their website, I was pleased with how clean and well-designed it was but I’m still skeptical that its variety is really a benefit to me. From what I’ve seen, I doubt they’ll have what I want, where and when I want it which is a hallmark of other sharing services like Zipcar.
Peer-to-Peer versus Business-to-Consumer
There is another important distinction between the companies in the Rental Economy 2.0 and it’s the difference between peer-to-peer marketplaces and business-to-consumer marketplaces. Both business models fulfill the “access over ownership” mantra of the sharing economy but many would argue that removing peer interactions makes the service purely a “Transactional Economy” instead of a “Sharing Economy”.
In the housing rental market, two good examples are HomeExchange and Rent Mine Online. Home Exchange is a peer-to-peer marketplace where homeowners can swap housing during vacations. There is a substantial vetting process between homeowners because you don’t want just anyone to stay in your home for weeks or months on end while you’re not there. Rent Mine Online on the other hand (now called LeaseStar) helps apartment management companies increase referrals through the power of social media. They are certainly a business-to-consumer service, but they have the aesthetic and feel of many Sharing Economy companies.
Many other examples exist like the popular Netflix and the less popular SwapaDVD for movie rentals. For me, the decision ultimately comes down to what services improve my “access over ownership”. I prefer the peer-to-peer networks, but there is a certain convenience threshold where I’ll start using a business-to-consumer service without a second thought.
Opportunities in the Rental Economy 2.0
As an always-enterprising guy, I find myself constantly looking for opportunity. In terms of the Rental Economy 2.0, I see a huge opportunity for men’s fashion, think of a Netflix for ties, watches, or even dress shirts. There are more than a dozen sites for women’s fashion, many with revenue in the millions. I haven’t yet seen anything for men yet.
Personally, I’m not terribly interested in the fashion industry. However, what I am very interested in is the outdoor recreation industry. 50% of my (minimal) possessions are related to outdoor activities. It’s what I think about and do with most of my free time. I only found one company in this space and it’s called Spinlister, a company that allows you to rent bicycles from your peers. You could definitely rent bikes from a traditional bike shop, but this old-school method dictates the where, when, and whom you can rent from. It’s also more expensive. For example, I had a friend spend several hundred dollars to disassemble, package, and haul her bike through several airports to New Zealand for a race. Once she arrived, she had to pay someone to have it reassembled. Then wash, rinse and repeat to get it back to Boston. Imagine if she could have just left the bike at home and rented an equivalent bike from a fellow triathlete in New Zealand. This would have saved her hours of hassle, hundreds of dollars, and led to a completely new experience for her.
This got me to thinking. I have an incredible group of outdoorsy friends in the Boston area and we are constantly lending and borrowing outdoor gear from each other. Outdoor recreation activities like camping, kayaking, or biking require large up-front investments of highly specialized equipment. This is a barrier for many people who would like to adventure outside. As an example, I love winter camping but many of my friends lack the requisite gear like a $500 -20F sleeping bag and a $700 winter tent. Some of these items are available for rent at traditional outdoor retailers like REI and EMS but again their offerings are centralized, i.e. you have to go to one of their stores during their open hours in order to rent from them.
As an avid outdoorsman with a passion for new ideas, I have become really excited about what the world of outdoor gear sharing could look like. So, in order to better understand how people use outdoor gear, I’ve developed a two-minute survey. Please take the survey and if I get over 100 responses I'll share the results in a future post. So please share it on Facebook and Twitter when you're done. Thanks in advance for your input!
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Author Christa Müller is a sociologist and author. For many years she has been committed to research on rural and urban subsistence. She is executive partner of the joint foundation “anstiftung & ertomis” in Munich. Her most recent book (in German) is Urban Gardening: About the Return of Gardens into the City.
“In these times of ever more blatant marketing of public space, the aspiration to plant potatoes precisely there – and without restricting entry – is nothing less than revolutionary,” writes Sabine Rohlf in her book review of Urban Gardening.1 Indeed, we can observe the return of gardens to the city everywhere and see it as an expression of a changing relationship between the public and the private. And it is not only this dominant differentiation in modern society that is increasingly becoming blurred; the differences between nature and society as well as that between city and countryside are fading as well, at least from the perspective of urban community gardeners.
In the 1960s, as the economy boomed, people in West Germany had given up their urban vegetable gardens, not least for reasons of social status; many wished to demonstrate, for example, that they could purchase food and no longer had to grow and preserve it themselves. Today, in contrast, the “Generation Garden” has planted its feet firmly in vegetable patches in the midst of hip urban neighborhoods, the “young farmers of Berlin-Kreuzberg” are creating a furor, the German Federal Cultural Foundation stages the festival “Über Lebenskunst” (a pun meaning both “On the art of living” and – spelled Überlebenskunst – “The art of survival”) and people need not be ashamed of showing their fingernails, black from gardening, in public.
What we observe here is a shift in the symbolism and status of post-materialistic values and lifestyles. Do-it-yourself and grow-it-yourself also means finding one’s own expression in the products of one’s labor. It means setting oneself apart from a life of consuming objects of industrial production. Seeking individual expression is also a quest for new forms and places of community. If the heated general stores and craftsmen’s workshops were the places where Germany’s social life unfolded in the postwar years, today’s urban community gardens and open workshops seem to be developing into hothouses of social solidarity for a post-fossil-fuel urban society.
Princess Garden in Berlin. Photo credit: Max A. Used under Creative Commons license.
In recent years, people of the most varied milieus have been joining forces and planting organic gardens in major European cities. They keep bees, reproduce seeds, make natural cosmetics, use plants to dye fabrics, organize open-air meals, and take over and manage public parks. With hands-on neighborhood support, urban gardening activists are planting flowers as they like at the bases of trees and transforming derelict land and garbage-strewn parking decks into places where people can meet and engage in common activities.
The new gardening movement is young, colorful and socially heterogeneous. In Berlin, “indigenous” city dwellers work side-by-side with long-time Turkish residents to grow vegetables in neighborhood gardens and community gardens; pick-your-own gardens and farmers’ gardens are forming networks with one another. The intercultural gardening movement is continuing to expand in striking ways, as seen on the online platform Mundraub.org, which uses Web 2.0 technology to tag the locations of fruit trees whose apples and other fruits can be picked for free (Müller 2011). Such novel blending of digital and analog worlds is creating new intermediate worlds that combine open source practices with subsistence-oriented practices of everyday life.2
URBAN GARDENS AS KNOWLEDGE COMMONS
Open source is the central guiding principle in all community gardens; the participation and involvement of the neighborhood are essential principles. The gardens are used and managed as commons even if the gardeners do not personally own the land. By encouraging people to participate, urban gardens gather and combine a large amount of knowledge in productive ways. Since there are usually no agricultural professionals among the gardeners, everyone depends on whatever knowledge is available – and everyone is open to learning. They follow the maxim that everybody benefits from sharing knowledge; after all, they can learn from each other, relearn skills they had lost and contribute to bringing about something new. Communal gardening confronts the limited means of urban farmers – whether in soil, materials, tools or access to knowledge – and transforms them into an economic system of plenty through collective ingenuity, giving and reciprocity.3
In urban gardens, both opportunities and the necessity for exchange arise time and again. A vibrant atmosphere emerges where the most varied talents meet. In workshops, for example, people can learn to build their own freight bicycles, window farming4 or greening roofs; they can learn to grow plants on balconies and the walls of buildings, and use plastic water bottles for constant watering of topsoil. There is always a need for ingenuity and productivity, which often come about only when knowledge is passed along, which in turn releases additional knowledge.
Thus, the creative process in a garden never reaches an end. The garden itself is a workshop where things are reinterpreted creatively and placed in new relationships. One thing leads to another. It is not only the inspiring presence of the various plants that provides for a wealth of ideas, but also the ongoing opportunity to engage oneself and be motivated by the objects lying around (Müller 2011).
Urban Harvest Tour in Houston. Photo credit: J. Bolles. Used under Creative Commons license.
This is how a real community that uses a garden emerges over time. One of the most important ingredients for success is that the place is not predefined or overly restricted by rules. Instead, the atmosphere of untidiness and openness makes it apparent that cooperation and creative ideas are desired and necessary.
A NEW POLICY FOR (PUBLIC) SPACE
When the neighborhood people of Berlin-Neukölln tend their gardens on the site of the former Berlin-Tempelhof airport in plant containers they crafted themselves, bringing together people of many different backgrounds and generations and supported by the Allmende-Kontor, a common gardening organization, this is first of all an unusual use of public space.5 The garden consists of raised beds in the most varied styles on 5,000 square meters. Plants grow in discarded bed frames, baby buggies, old zinc tubs and wooden containers assembled by the gardeners themselves.
But more than an unusual public space, the Allmende-Kontor gardens underscore an important political dimension of urban gardening. The commons-oriented practices enable a different perspective on the city. They both require communities and at the same time createcommunities. People come together here, but not under the banner of major events, advertising or the obligation to consume. Instead, their self-organized, decentralized practices in the public realm implicitly express a shared aspiration of a green city for all. Yet no grand new societal utopia – “the society of the future” – is being promoted. Instead, simple social interactions slowly transform a concrete space in the here and now, building an alternative to the dominant order based on market fundamentalism (Werner 2011).
In other words, the policy preference for the small-scale as a rediscovery of one’s immediate environment is by no means based on a narrowed perspective. On the contrary: the focus is precisely on the overuse, colonization and destruction of the global commons, and for this reason, the local commons is managed as a place where one can raise awareness about a new concept of publicness6 while simultaneously demonstrating that there are indeed alternatives – common usage in place of private property; local quality of life instead of remote-controlled consumption, as it were; and cooperation rather than individual isolation.
MANAGING THE “INTERNAL COMMONS”
The new focus on the commons in urban community gardens is not only a political defense of public space for its use toward the common good. At the same time, it is also a reclaiming of people’s internal consciousness and a rejection of the ascriptions of homo economicus, an image of humanity that reduces us to competition-oriented individuals whose attention is focused solely on their own advantage.7 This overly simplistic model has been under constructive attack for some time, even in the field of economics. In particular, the social neurosciences have confirmed that people’s willingness to cooperate and need for connectedness are central elements of human nature. For scholars of the humanities, this is surely no new insight, yet it is still good to know that there is substantial scientific evidence showing that the existence of a boundary between mind and body, which is often used to justify hegemonic domination, is artificial, and that the interrelationships between body and mind are highly complex. For example, we know today that social or psychological experiences leave physical traces – even in our genes, as shown by epigenetics. Joachim Bauer considers this insight to be the decisive breakthrough regarding our concepts of humankind (Bauer 2008).
This has two consequences for the subject at hand: for one thing, a practice of the commons such as community gardening enables the gardeners to discover their bodies, the experience of having two hands and being able to create things with them. Such sensory experiences are directly connected to one’s grasp of the world. For another, the garden is the ideal place to learn how to cooperate. When designing a system to capture rainwater for the beds, for example, the experience reveals an aspect of being human – namely connectedness – that is just as important as the experience of autonomy (Hüther 2011).
Canal-side garden in Milan. Photo credit: Roberto Venturini. Used under Creative Commons license.
In this sense, commons are a practice of life that enable even the highly individualized subjects of the 21st century to turn their attention to one another, and not least to slow down their lives. After all, time, too, is a resource to be conceptualized in the community. Experiencing time means being able to pursue an activity as one sees fit, enjoying a moment or spending it with others. By accelerating time to an extreme degree, digital capitalism has subjected virtually everyone to a regime of efficiency, with the result that people’s sense of time is determined by scarcity and by the stress people subjectively feel to “fill” time with as much utility as possible. Time is “saved,” leisure hours are regarded with suspicion, and the boundaries between work and free time are increasingly blurred.
The garden is an antidote that can be used as a refuge by the “exhausted self,” as described by French Sociologist Alain Ehrenberg. The garden slows things down and enables experiences with temporal cycles from a different epoch of human history, agrarian society. Small-scale agriculture, which is being rediscovered in many urban gardens, is cyclical in nature. Every year, the cycle begins anew with the preparation of the soil and with sowing. People who farm are exposed to nature, the climatic conditions, the seasons and the cycles of day and night. For city dwellers whose virtual lives have taught them that everything is always possible at the same time, and above all, that everything can be managed at any time, these dimensions of time are highly fascinating. Gardening enables the insight that we are integrated in life cycles ourselves and that it can have a calming effect to simply “give oneself up” to the situation at hand.
In other words, managing the commons creates not only valuable experiences, but also social relationships with far-reaching effects. And, one might add, they are valuable for achieving the transformation of an industrial society based on oil and resource exploitation into a society guided by premises of democratic participation that no longer “lives” on externalizing costs but, to the extent possible, avoids creating them in the first place. Processes of reciprocity and an “economy of symbolic goods,” asBourdieu puts it, are just as important for highly differentiated modern societies as for premodern ones (Adloff and Mau 2005). Old and new practices of the commons offer inspiring options for action.
URBAN AGRICULTURE: THE NEW TRENDS
Agropolis is the title of the planning concept of a group of Munich architects who won the Open Scale competition with a “metropolitan food strategy” in 2009.8 The concept for an “urban neighborhood of harvesting” places growing one’s own food, the valuation of regional resources and sustainable management of land at the center of urban planning. Harvests are to become a visible part of everyday urban life. If the city implements the model, fruit from the commons and community institutions that exchange, store and process the harvest could create the basis for a productive collaboration on the part of the 20,000 inhabitants of the new neighborhood.
The Citizens’ Garden Laskerwiese is a public park managed by the citizens themselves.9 A group of 35 local residents transformed the previously garbage-strewn, derelict land in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, in Berlin, into a park. They concluded a contract with the district authorities, agreeing that the citizens’ association is responsible for services such as tending the trees and the lawns on the site. In return, it can use parcels of land and beds for growing vegetables free of charge. Such new models that help cash-strapped municipalities shoulder their financial burden and expand the opportunities for people to shape public spaces require a lot of time and effort for communication on both sides.
The Allmende-Kontor (roughly: Commons Office) is an initiative of the Berlin urban gardening movement that has been tending community gardens on the site of the former airport Berlin-Tempelhof together with local residents since 2011.10 Raised beds of the most varied styles are being created on 5,000 square meters. The Allmende-Kontor considers itself as a garden for all – and at the same time as a place for storing knowledge, for learning and for consulting and networking Berlin community gardens. The establishment of a pool of gardening tools and a seed bank available for unrestricted use are being planned as well.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of the Commons and is republished with permission.
- Adloff, Frank and Steffen Mau, Eds. 2005. Vom Geben und Nehmen. Zur Soziologie der Reziprozität. Frankfurt/New York. Campus.
- Bauer, Joachim. 2008. Das Gedächtnis des Körpers. Wie Beziehungen und Lebensstile unsere Gene steuern. München. Piper.
- Hüther, Gerald. 2011. Was wir sind und was wir sein könnten. Ein neurobiologischer Mutmacher. Frankfurt. Fischer.
- Müller, Christa, editor. 2011. Urban Gardening. Über die Rückkehr der Gärten in die Stadt. München. oekom.
- Werner, Karin. 2011. “Eigensinnige Beheimatungen. Gemeinschaftsgärten als Orte des Widerstandes gegen die neoliberale Ordnung.” In: Müller, Christa, ed. a.a.O.: 54-75.
- 1.Berliner Zeitung, April 5, 2011.
- 2.Mundraub is described in Katharina Frosch’s essay in Part 3.
- 3.For more, read the conversation between Brian Davey, Wolfgang Hoeschele, Roberto Verzola and Silke Helfrich in Part 1.
- 4.Window farming is vertical gardening on a windowsill. Plants are grown in hanging plastic bottles, which also provide greenery for the windows.
- 6.See also Brigitte Kratzwald’s essay on social welfare in light of the commons in Part 1.
- 7.For more detail on this topic, see Friederike Habermann’s essay in Part 1.