A basic dictionary of the “Sharing Economy,” “Sharing Cities,” and communitarianism

Sharing is more than a trend: it can be a business model, a city model or a lifestyle. To distinguish these three dimensions and their manifestations, it’s important to understand the culture born of the crisis and its limits.

cosas a compartir

“Sharing” is more than a trend: for some, it is the engine of their businesses, for others, the touchstone from which to design cities to live in; for some, a way of life. But in any case, it would be good to differentiate these three environments to understand what they really represent and their limits. We must not let the good feelings and words that really mean things end up being emptied and defrauding us.

Sharing as a commercial service = Sharing Economy

The boom in the “sharing economy” is a new dot-com boom. Making it possible for the people “share” objects and services through a platform has become a standard formula for investors, and hundreds of start-ups are presented as the “new Uber”. At the same time a basic criticism emerges more and more: the users share, but the the owners of the platform – the creators and investors – take a substantial part of the benefit created. New business models, like Sensorica or Enspiral propose alternative forms of distribution. But in the end, what are we talking about?

  • compartiendo en peer byCollaborative consumption. The name collaborative consumption refers to a set of practices that substitute or develop services for a community, region or collective through systems that let them share different resources. Among them, a web platform or app establishes the procedure and ways to do it, centralizing the participants around itself.
    • Co-consumption (shared consumption). Neighbors share objects and durable consumer goods that “aren’t worth the trouble to buy.” The best-known model to establish this kind of network would be “Peer by.”
    • Car-sharing. Clubs and businesses that rent cars by the hour or by mileage to a network of “associated” users that pay a small monthly fee. Originally, members of the network shared their cars with others that didn’t have one of their own, but scaling the model, especially with the appearance of giant businesses like “ZipCar,” led to the fleets being owned by the business. What’s original about the model consists of offering an alternative for regular and professional use of the car, as opposed to traditional rental businesses, which are centered on occasional and tourist use. On the other hand, Audi has recently begun to offer prepare buyers’ new cars for micro-car-sharing in its catalog, which seems to indicate a future where “adaptation for sharing” will be among the options for model of other brands.In some subsectors, like RVs, the original role of the platforms is maintained, and, like “Je Loué mon Camping Car,” mediate with a commission between RV owners and those who want rent them for vacations.
    • uberRide sharing (shared-cost travel). Businesses like “Blablacar” put travelers in contact, allowing them share vehicles and trip costs. A variation on this model is the polemical “Uber,” seen by taxi drivers as a form of unregulated competition.
    • Couch Surfing. (In Spanish, “hospitality services.”) Originally networks of private individuals who offered free accommodation in their houses, like “Pasporta Servo,” born twenty years before the web existed. Since becoming a commercial model, hand in hand with platforms like “Airbnb” or “Knok,” they have evolved into global online services of room or apartment rental between private individuals. Some platforms like “WWOOF” specialize in work exchange for accommodation.
    • eat withCo-dining. Platforms that allow that professional chefs or aficionados to organize dinners and thematic meals in private homes or txokos — never restaurants — for an established price. There are several businesses and many clubs with very similar models. An example would be “Eat with.”
    • Co-living. A model that started, initially non-commercially, when life-long “apartment sharing” added dynamics, activities and projects as part of the offer in the search for housemates, as in the example of “Rainbow Mansion.” It soon became a new form of real-estate business in which networks like “Embassy Network” make it possible for someone who has rented a coliving room enjoys a “right of use” in other houses in the network, using an online platform to make reservations and announce their stays.
  • coworkingCollaborative production. Services of collaborative production allow people and small organizations to share spaces, tools and skills in the development of products, services or commercial artwork.
    • Co-working. At the most basic level, sharing work space. Like other services, it began as a spontaneous form of collaboration between freelancers — who were building an environment and relationships — and businesses that were optimizing the use of office space and were building relationships. Soon, it made the leap to a real-estate business: everywhere, investors appeared who outfitted workspaces to share and added stimulus programs to facilitate networking and, in some cases, even help in the incubation of business ideas.
    • Co-design and co-creation. Platforms like “Sensorica” create spaces and provide tools for discussion and industrial design to different professionals who collaborate on the design and development of a product and finally participate of the results of its sale. A similar format has been explored by musicians and other artists, with platforms like “Red Panal.”
    • kickstarterCo-financing. Surely the most transformative facet of the “sharing economy.” If “Kiva” let thousands of people finance microenterprises in poverty zones with minimal management costs, “Kickstarter” allowed for the financing of projects of direct economy without their promoters having to commit to surrendering ownership. In fact, the “crowdfunding” model turns purchasing in advance and symbolic support into an alternative to funding as such through capital investment or a loan.

Sharing as a city model = Sharing Cities

car sharingAs we’ve seen, a good part of these services were born of groups of citizens with a genuine desire to share. When the models were consolidated, they were converted or adopted by businesses. But that was the evolution necessary? For many, it’s a legitimate question that coincides with criticism of the model “smart city,” understood by many as the corporate and controlling city model. From that conversation, the emergent concept of the “sharing city” would be born. This is about applying to the city what was learned from the “sharing economy” to achieve greater well-being with a more efficient use of public resources from the joint work of citizen groups, businesses and local administrations.

  • Shared transportation. The integration of car-sharing and bicycle rental on public transportation networks, following the Bremen model, is beginning to spread across both the USA and Europe.
  • Administration as citizen platform. Sharing services and consumer goods allows a more efficient use of resources and therefore reduces waste and its treatment and management costs. That’s what “Zero Waste,” waste-treatment business of South Australia’s government, thought, and so it launched “Share and Save.” It’s an open-source web platform that lists and geopositions all activities and citizen exchanges oriented to sharing all kinds of things.
  • guifi netServices and distributed infrastructures. These are movements that make real the possibility of creating abundance through participation and citizen collaboration in distributed networks. They have demonstrated their ability in matters as apparently difficult and costly as the generation of a free (libre) citizen telecommunications infrastructure on the guifi.net model — or renewable energy — somenergia.coop– where models and technological alternatives for distributed production are emerging.
  • The new urban commons. With the economic crisis, many city halls gave space to self-managed and open groups of citizens for all manner of social activities that were incorporated into public services. It’s a new urban “commons” of spaces and services that is taking the lead not only in entertainment-educational services — like urban gardens — but that also serve as a base for new municipal systems of citizenship co-management like accompanying senior citizens with volunteers, etc.

Sharing as a lifestyle = Communitarianism

Putting sharing at the center of life itself and not only of business or city models, has been, since Antiquity, the objective of the communitarian movement and the focus of its experience.

  • creando una vida juntosIntentional communities. Since the meaning of “community” is so different depending on the cultural and ideological context of the person using it, the concept of “intentional community,” born in the USA, has a certain bias that makes it difficult to comprehend outside of Anglo-Saxon culture. Generally, it is used for groups that, normally bound by a common social or religious ideology, and moved by the desire to live under under certain “community standards,” decide to build a town together, inhabit the same neighborhood, or share a house. This almost never means that they share ownership of the houses more than temporarily, and only on very rare occasions do they work together in a cooperative or businesses owned in common. At the center of the idea of the “intentional community” is “community standards,” values and rules of shared co-existence in a given place. The creators of this kind of community create them to live in accordance with them, and normally, the most important part of the foundation is the founders designing of the set of norms, neighborly practices, and decision-making systems that they will use in their coexistence. That is why it turns out to be clearer to separate “intentional communities” from the communities of shared economy.
    • rawnsley ecoaldea australiaCo-housing. A term (the English word is not translated in Spanish) that describes communities with services and facilities shared among homeowners. Influenced by the ideas of the German social-democratic theoretician August Bebel, since the beginning of the twentieth century, a part of social housing and housing cooperatives in Germany, Austria, Holland and other European countries begin to incorporate common services: kitchen, dining room, kindergarten, laundry room, etc.- as a way of building interaction and commitment between their members over time. The model endures up to today, having spread to the USA (where it took its current name) and shaped neighborhood buildings custom-designed to develop a community social life of their own.
    • ecoaldea en inglaterraEcovillages. A term that arose in the nineties to talk about settlements founded on “community standards,” whose objective is to minimize the environmental impact of the group. Ecovillages were created out of more or less sophisticated versions of housing cooperatives, with the group as a whole buying the lands, and later dividing it up among the members, normally after building a certain amount of basic infrastructure.
    • Thematic cities and towns. Beyond ecovillages, reconstructed or recovered towns, new settlements and even “experimental” cities like the famous “Auroville” in India or “Celebration,” the town created by Disney within their initiative called “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” (EPCOT), work under a similar model, which mixes private property with a rigid “internal constitution” that seeks to maintain the continuity and integrity of a given community experience.
  • Egalitarian communities. This is the name for communities that hold resources that sustain it in common, starting with the land, and including the facilities and the product of the labor of their members. The distribution is carried out jointly as a function of the needs of each of members. They are mostly ruled by decision-making systems based on consensus.
    • villa locomunaIncome-sharing communities. These are communities that share the ownership of housing — normally a large house, a building or a group of small buildings — in which members put their revenue into a common fund. Although this kind of community was born and became stable in Israel in the ’70s, it soon spread across Germany and the Nordic countries. Their members not only seek a community life, but completely mutualize life risks and create strong solidarity networks. The model spread to the US with the real-estate crisis, when groups of youth were able to buy buildings at a low cost and establish themselves in them.
    • Nieder KaufungenProductive communities. These are egalitarian communities that not only share their income, but also produce together. They are the product of the egalitarian European idea according to which the center of society, and therefore of social problems, is in production and in the manner in which things are produced. That’s why the idea of producing together — which means “learning together” — under a structure of shared responsibilities, distributing the result according to the needs of every one, is the common element of the communitarian model, which has been followed by egalitarian colonies of the nineteenth century, Israeli kibbutzim, and the large networks of European and American egalitarian communities of today.
      • hilado para las redes en Twin OaksAgrarian communities. The most widespread model in Germany and Austria, in the Francophone world, and USA. These are agrarian settlements that, while they have developed industry and services, like the famous Twin Oaks community in Virginia or Nieder Kaufungen in Germany, continue to have a strong agricultural component and their life, products and relationship with their surroundings are marked by being outside of big cities.
      • Urban communities. These were born at the beginning of the twenty-first century, associated with the development of cooperativism of new technological services and with the idea of phyle, first in the Spanish-speaking world and later in the US. In both places, they are groups born out of conversation on the Internet. They produce services and products of high value added linked to the green economy, the direct economy or P2P production. Over the long term, their social model is focused on building broader transnational networks with other agrarian and urban egalitarian communities, but also with cooperatives and small enterprises, to all together develop autonomous systems of social protection for their members.


Sharing is one of the values on the rise of the world that is coming out of the crisis. It informs the new business and city models, but also the new lifestyles and the objectives of the small groups and alternative models around which new ideas and ways of making things are catalyzed. But in any case, it’s good to be clear on what the possibilities and context of each of these facets are. Let’s make sure we don’t erode the meaning of the word, and with it, the trust and hope it transmits today.

Translated by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

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