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Can A Global Alliance Of 22 Mayors Tame Airbnb, Uber, And The Gig Economy?

New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen wants cities to band together.

Can A Global Alliance Of 22 Mayors Tame Airbnb, Uber, And The Gig Economy?
[Photo: Flickr user U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sara Keller]

For city mayors, dealing with the rise of gig economy startups has often felt like a game of whack-a-mole. Get a handle on how to regulate one company’s operations, and suddenly another appears.

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That dynamic is finally changing–and for the better, says Alicia Glen, New York City’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development. “This is not about any one digital company,” she tells Fast Company. “When we started, it was a very company-by-company exercise. Now it’s clear to me that it’s more sector-by-sector.”

That shift in perspective is central to the policy framework that Glen plans to present today at the Sharing Cities Summit, a gathering of leaders from 22 cities around the world that will take place at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Athens, New Orleans, Seoul, Vancouver–each of the participants is grappling with the rise of platforms like Airbnb and Uber, and eager to reassert their regulatory authority through combined clout.

A dozen of the cities formed an alliance last year, meeting in Amsterdam to exchange ideas. “There’s a disconnect between federal policy and what cities need to be doing to make sure they get what they need,” Glen says. “It became pretty clear to me that having this discussion, city-to-city, would be incredibly valuable.”

Now she and her team will be looking to make those initial discussions more concrete through a daylong series of presentations and working sessions (sample case study: “Increasing Economic Opportunity for Gig Workers”). Themes will include fair compensation, health and safety standards, environmental sustainability, equal opportunity, and data security.

Glen does not expect participants to arrive at exact agreement on policy, particularly when it comes to striking a balance between tourists and residents. She notes, for example, that Amsterdam has instituted Airbnb “no-fly zones” for certain neighborhoods, to protect locals who were feeling under siege. New York, in contrast, has encouraged the growth of Airbnb in neighborhoods that are far from tourist meccas like Times Square. (Not without risk: Earlier this month, a German tourist staying at an Airbnb in Harlem was robbed and sexually assaulted.)

New York City has been conservative in some areas of gig economy policy, and more aggressive in others. Last October the City Council unanimously passed the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act,” to protect freelancers from wage theft; the bill went into effect this week. Meanwhile, shared dining apps operate in a gray zone and Airbnb has been in retreat.

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“I want these companies to do well, I want these companies to hire a lot of people,” Glen says. “But I want to do it in a way where they understand that we have a legitimate interest in regulating them.”

About the author

Staff writer Ainsley (O'Connell) Harris covers the business of technology with a focus on financial services and education. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.

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