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As The Sharing Economy Goes Mainstream, Most Cities Want To See It Grow

Despite tensions with companies like Airbnb and Uber, a new survey finds that most cities want to find a way to make it work.

As The Sharing Economy Goes Mainstream, Most Cities Want To See It Grow
[Illustrations: Petr Strnad via Shutterstock]

A decade ago, the fledgling sharing economy existed on the fringes. The first large-scale bike-share system in the world had just launched; now bike sharing exists in over 700 cities. Zipcar, one of the largest U.S. companies in the space at the time, only had 50,000 members. Today, Uber is giving over 1 million rides a day. Collectively, Uber and Airbnb are valued at over $50 billion.

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A recent survey looked at how cities are reacting to the shift and how government attitudes are changing.

“Early on, the disruptive and abrupt approach many rapidly growing sharing economy companies took as they entered cities created consternation and concern,” says Brooks Rainwater, a director at the National League of Cities and co-author of the report. “Over time, the desires of people and the goals of cities have coalesced and become clearer, and confrontation has moved more toward collaboration.”


That’s not to say cities have figured out yet how to best work with companies like Uber or Airbnb. In fact, some are going head to head with both companies. But the survey found that cities are beginning to view peer-to-peer businesses more positively than they have in the past. Of the 245 cities and towns surveyed, 71% now say they want to see the sharing economy grow, with more support for ridesharing (66%) than homesharing (44%). Over half of cities say that the sharing economy is growing locally, and unlike in the past, it’s happening everywhere–not just in the largest cities.

Just over half of cities aren’t regulating the sharing economy yet, though that may soon change; most say it’s important. The laws that do exist will probably evolve. In San Francisco, for example, where some housing activists argue that Airbnb is keeping desperately needed apartments off the rental market (Airbnb disagrees), some officials say the city’s new “Airbnb law” isn’t working.

But though cities clearly need to work out the kinks, the report suggests the sharing economy will continue to grow. “Peer to peer practices will be more widely incorporated into traditional businesses,” says Rainwater. “Rather than just seeing the sharing economy as a specific segment of the economy, it will become much more integrated into the wider economy.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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