Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Neighborhood sharing as computer mediated communication

(Photo: Streetbank.)

Before the creation of for-profit collaborative sharing (collaborative consumption) programs, like carsharing or bikesharing, there were other sharing initiatives, in biking and neighborhood tool libraries, among other projects.

For various reasons, less formal and nonprofit sharing initiatives have a hard time maintaining themselves over time.  Partly it can be an issue of scale, especially at the neighborhood level, partly it's about management, which Internet-based applications can manage now, it's about having the money to buy the equipment, and partly it's about labor--a centralized location with tools needs people around to check them out and check them back in.

In London, two people, Sam Stephens and Ryan Davies, put together a program and software application called Streetbank to allow people to share items with each other directly or on a decentralized basis, aided by the database, and not requiring a centralized inventory.  See "Go on, lend me that old lawnmower in the shed" from Hammersmith & Fulton News and "Neighbourhood Sharing" from the Malaysia Star.

Maybe what's key about such a database--there it is set up to let you see available items within about a 2km distance--is that it really isn't so much about the items that are available, but about organizing a group of people predisposed to share items

This is very important because I think one of the biggest problems with sharing is asking other people if you can borrow items from them occasionally or the same item repeatedly, or if they are willing to jointly purchase an item together and share the use of it.

It's hard/can be hard to ask people for help.  (It's easier to say yes when you're asked than it is to ask.)

Obviously, when a platform is provided from a for-profit vendor--like Zipcar--this isn't an issue because fundamentally, the relationship is transactional.  You're buying short-term use of a product, you're paying for it, it's not about creating a reciprocal obligation.  It's not a lot different than traditional rental programs (cars, tools, etc.) just in shorter increments.

Borrowing-sharing items from your neighbors and close-by residents that you wouldn't otherwise know, informally is fundamentally personal, and harder to do.

It's not so much that Streetbank is a database of available items as much as it is a computer-mediated method to foster face-to-face connections, structuring connections and making it easier to create reciprocal obligations that are personal, trading use of items, but not transactionally.

Note that some neighborhood listservs also perform this function, but it is the rare neighborhood that has the sense of community and trust where this happens. Takoma DC is one such place.

Also see "How to avoid getting ripped off on Craigslist" from the Los Angeles Times.  They recommend meeting the person you're dealing with, to eliminate "99%" of the fraud.



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