Seoul, Korea is a leader in the "Sharing City" movement—a growing global movement that encourages local residents to proactively share resources like cars, housing, or gardens with each other, so as to build more healthy, supportive and equitable communities. As the coordinator of the Sharing City Network (Tom Llewellyn) describes it,
“The idea is for people within the city to work together for the common good rather than competing for scarce resources…At a core, these cities are primarily civic, meaning residents would be focused on taking care of each other as well as partner cities, creating a cross-city solidarity.”
-- Tom Llewellyn, Coordinator, Sharing City Network
Seoul Metro Government issued the world’s first official declaration of a commitment to the “sharing city” paradigm in 2012, and many other global cities have since followed Seoul’s path by developing their own “sharing city” models. The choice that Seoul made to develop a sharing city model was driven by a range of tremendous challenges in the Asian megacity: skyrocketing housing prices, high living expenses, lack of job opportunities for young people, inadequate green space, a rapidly aging population, etc.
As a solution, the city of Seoul has passed various city ordinances since 2012 to support sharing projects in partnership with private entities. For example, in 2014 Seoul issued the “Sharing City Promotion Ordinance,” which directed officials to build out the technical and social infrastructure of sharing the city—for example by providing free government platforms for citizen collaboration, meet-ups, and shared personal resources. An electronic “Share Hub” was designed as an online information-sharing portal that could advance such initiatives as sharing cars, bikes, private parking spaces, and even group meals.[i] Government support for non-profit sharing organizations was enlarged. Government sponsored portals and educational sessions to promote citizen participation in government were expanded. This envisioned sharing city was more than a technically well managed city—Seoul Metro government described it was a humanist city, using the digital ecosystem to advance the humanist aspirations of residents for a more social, supportive, creative and equitable city. [ii]
Some of Seoul’s recent sharing projects include creating Seoul’s “Open Data Plaza” so that citizens have free access to massive amounts of open data, provided by the city government, which can help small businesses and individual innovators improve services and pursue new ideas. Fifteen million government policy and administrative documents were made available on this platform, together with massive amounts of demographic data, business and economic trends data, polling data, etc..[iii] The system also allows Seoul residents to upload their own data into publicly shared datasets. For example, people can upload personally notated bike routes, databases of animal sightings in the city, or a record of rooftop gardens in different neighborhoods. In the first two years of its operation, 21 million data requests were made on Seoul’s Open Data portal.[iv] To support robust use of these services and encourage creative and collective activities by residents also launched the “Big Data Campus” around the same time. This service is a physical site where residents can visit for free access to meeting rooms, and can jointly support each other with shared technical support and educational sessions in how to use the city’s free databases, computers and software programs to analyze data and develop apps for urban solutions.[v]
To induce use of these shared resources, Seoul city sponsors friendly “idea competitions” or “hackathons” where people compete to develop new concepts in an open innovation environment where the data, software, engineering devices and discussions are all shared, drawing on the collective intelligence of everyone present to develop apps or business ideas that might address persistent urban problems.[vi] These city-funded training programs and events—united under Seoul’s “Creative Talent Promotion Project”[vii] have resulted in thousands of Seoul residents taking free course in “U-City” construction, transportation, energy management, environmental protection, and ICT networking.
Seoul’s shared data portal isn’t just for high-tech business planning and new electronic services. For example, Seoul Metro government added the “Democracy Seoul Platform” to their shared portal in 2017. This “democracy platform” provides Seoul residents a free civic activism platform that enhances the ability of residents to meet each other online and plan for neighborhood events, common advocacy efforts, joint research projects, new business ideas, or other such collective activities.[viii]
Another representative sharing effort is Seoul’s bicycle sharing program, started in 2015 and now providing thousands of public bicycles across the city to any resident at very low rental rates (less than $1 US dollar per hour). The bikeshare program reports more than 20,000 daily users and its usage increased by 25 percent during the covid pandemic since 2020. Seoul’s sharing housing program matches an elderly person with young people for mutual benefits. A shared parking space project allows individuals to use phone apps to share their underutilized private parking spaces in apartment buildings with others, helping reduce traffic congestion.
This kind of “sharing city” paradigm has spread across the globe in recent years. Today, there are dozens of cities with active “Sharing Cities,” programs, including London, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Milan. There are widespread programs encouraging residents and businesses to share housing, food, water, technology, cars and bikes. Workplace sharing, especially among financially strapped non-profits, is increasingly common.
Beyond helping organizations and residents meet their daily needs, some of these resource sharing efforts can have a transformational political impact as well. For example, I was personally involved in one example of workspace sharing in the Denver metro area that helped activists resist a growing wave of oppressive anti-immigrant politics about a decade ago. The episode began when the Denver-bordering city of Aurora blocked El Centro Humanitario (a human rights center serving immigrant day laborers), from opening a second safe gathering place for immigrant day laborers in Aurora. While preventing El Centro from opening its own space in the area, the city of Aurora also passed an anti-day laborer city ordinance stating that any new “employment agency” like El Centro could not be located within 1500 ft of an existing employment agency, thus banning El Centro from any location where immigrant workers were currently congregating.
The idea of sharing a workspace with existing non-profits in Aurora emerged as a solution that would allow El Centro to move into Aurora as a sharing ally of existing non-profits, rather than as a new stand-alone employment center. An idea was developed to create a sharing space among nonprofits serving immigrant populations, which would help several nonprofits to maximize resources and build support for each other. As a result, El Centro settled into a new space with other immigrant serving groups and the shared Aurora’s Human Rights Center was born. The sharing solution worked. Still today, ten years later, Aurora’s immigrant human rights center is flourishing. Currently, The Aurora Human Rights Center has been welcoming by a new wave of Aurora city officials, who have been persuaded to support the center with public funding. In this way, although Aurora’s anti-immigrant city ordinance once blocked a single organization from entering the city, a sharing perspective emerged among local non-profits who developed a solution that also helped build the civic engagement and political power of immigrant serving groups in Aurora
All cities can do better by adopting a sharing city model. While we are used to the idea that owning our own things and controlling our own space is the best way to live in capitalism, it is time for us to bring the concept of “sharing” into our daily lives, organizational work, and business models. It’s Just like we were all taught as kids: our families, neighborhoods and cities will be better when shared.
[i] Shaping the sharing city: An exploratory study on Seoul and Milan Monica Bernardi a, *, Davide Diamantini b p. 35 [ii] Ibid, p. 34 [iii] Aveva, Seoul Smart City Profile, February 2020. [iv] Yoo, Yejin. 2021. "Toward Sustainable Governance: Strategic Analysis of the Smart City Seoul Portal in Korea" Sustainability 13, no. 11: 5886. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13115886 [v] Aveva, Seoul Smart City Profile, February 2020, p. 16. [vi] http:www.sdf.seoul.kr; Schuurman, Dimitri, Bastian Baccarne, Bastiaan, Lieven Marez, and Peter Merchant, 2012. “Smart Ideas for Smart Cities: Investigating Crowdsourcing for Generating and Selecting Ideas for ICT Innovation in a City Context.” Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research 7(3), p. 52; For one list of these “hackathons” in Seoul during 2020, see: https://www.hackathon.com/city/south-korea/seoul/2020; For a profile of the winner of one of these hackathons in 2021, see; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ti2nupOfaEo. [vii] Smart City Korea, “Creative Talent Promote Project,” https://smartcity.go.kr/en/. [viii] Aveva, Seoul Smart City Profile, February 2020.