“The social economy approach to development is a powerful tool because its mission to serve community rather than answer to outside shareholders allows it to take into account many dimensions of urban life.”
— Nancy Neamtan, Chantier de l’économie sociale, Voices of New Economies

“We can harness the energy of the free market economy and recycle it into social change.”
— Ken Lyotier, Founder, United We Can
 
 

The current economic model is falling short when it comes to equality, ecology and well-being. Can there be a new economy that serves people and the environment – not just shareholders? Is it possible?

Cities, where over 80% of Canadians reside, are at the forefront of economic changes. Can cities be incubators of new economic models that will ensure increased equity, sustainability, resilience and diversity?

 

+80%

of Canada’s population
lives in cities

Vancouver-based One Earth was charged with exploring this critical territory, and in many respects acted as “thought leaders” and guides to emerging problems and solutions. What is called “the sharing economy” became a major focus. This catch-all phrase describes a vast area of non-traditional economic activities. What unites them all is their potential to disrupt the status quo and in some cases to advance environmentally sustainable and socially equitable activities.

Uber, the competitor to the traditional taxi industry, ignites passion and anger from Toronto to Paris to Los Angeles with concerns about poor employment practices and reducing public transit use in downtown areas. Vancouver has stalled Uber’s entry into the market, while the City of Edmonton and the City of Toronto are developing specific regulations for ridesourcing companies.

But there is another face of the sharing economy. Take, for example, the Vancouver Tool Library. The founders of this cooperative came across research showing that the average home power drill costs $100 but is used for a total of 14 minutes during its lifetime. The tool library gives its members, in exchange for a reasonable fee, access to a host of useful household tools – alleviating the waste of that unused power drill.

 

Average cost of a power drill

$100

Total use over lifespan

14 minutes

 
How can we support city governments to tackle the challenges and opportunities presented by the sharing economy?”

“How can we support city governments to tackle the challenges and opportunities presented by the sharing economy?” asked One Earth’s Executive Director, Vanessa Timmer, in the early stages of Cities for People. As an outcome of its work on the initiative, One Earth created the Local Governments and the Sharing Economy (LGSE) project with advisors, including cities from the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN). The LGSE road map provides guidelines on how cities can navigate this brand new terrain.

One Earth’s report contains three key lessons:

  • The sharing economy is not inherently sustainable but local governments can help to make it more so. For example, municipalities can support cooperative housing directly or by lobbying higher levels of government and/or by changing local legislation and bylaws.
     
  • Community sharing is a promising area and local governments can take proactive enabling roles. For example, support for “fix-it” clinics – community centres where people come together and pool expertise for repairing and refurbishing old household items – can enable communities to better meet their own needs locally.
     
  • Addressing data gaps is critical for understanding sustainability impacts on cities. Cities can explore giving preferential access to city markets for sharing economy businesses that share relevant data.

 

APRIL RINNE To kick off Cities for People in February 2014, One Earth joined Social Innovation Generation (SiG) in taking April Rinne, an expert on the sharing economy, on a four-city tour across Canada. The tour illustrated the momentum in the sharing economy, brought together new allies working in the field and highlighted implications for people and local governments. Watch April Rinne's presentation here

APRIL RINNE

To kick off Cities for People in February 2014, One Earth joined Social Innovation Generation (SiG) in taking April Rinne, an expert on the sharing economy, on a four-city tour across Canada. The tour illustrated the momentum in the sharing economy, brought together new allies working in the field and highlighted implications for people and local governments.

Watch April Rinne's presentation here

 


The LGSE report recommends that cities prioritize innovative community sharing practices that promote the reuse, borrowing, swapping, repair and maintenance of goods. Cities are asked to study the sharing economy closely, to measure the effects of car sharing, for example, to see whether the touted benefits are actually delivered locally. Do companies like Car2Go and Communauto help ease congestion, reduce energy consumption and lead to healthier consumer lifestyles? Cities have to examine the data for themselves and, as noted above, some municipalities are requiring data sharing as part of their agreements with sharing economy actors.
 

BINNERS’ PROJECT One of the most marginalized groups, binners, including in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, collect recyclable containers from around the city and turn them in for refund money. Cities for People, through One Earth, supported the Binners' Project with the goal of facilitating learning and empowering waste pickers to have their voices heard. A group in Montreal created Coop Les Valoristes, inspired by Ken Lyotier, founder of United We Can in Vancouver. The Binners’ Project was launched jointly in Vancouver and Montreal and enabled further exchange across binners in Canada.  Photo by Dagmar Timmer

BINNERS’ PROJECT

One of the most marginalized groups, binners, including in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, collect recyclable containers from around the city and turn them in for refund money. Cities for People, through One Earth, supported the Binners' Project with the goal of facilitating learning and empowering waste pickers to have their voices heard. A group in Montreal created Coop Les Valoristes, inspired by Ken Lyotier, founder of United We Can in Vancouver. The Binners’ Project was launched jointly in Vancouver and Montreal and enabled further exchange across binners in Canada. 

Photo by Dagmar Timmer

 

For Timmer, there are three elements to consider in exploring the intersection of new economies and cities. First, she thinks it is important that cities become more self-reliant. By reducing their dependence on global networks and by building internal capacity, cities can more reliably meet the needs of their citizens. Second, she thinks innovations in closed-loop manufacturing and circular production across sectors hold considerable promise. For example, why not encourage more local industries to pool and share resources, such as energy, water, materials, technical expertise and transportation, so that their practices are more efficient and sustainable?

At the same time, cities are nodes in the flow of global goods. By recognizing their power – for example, as large purchasers of goods – cities can exert a greater influence on world economic patterns and supply chains. 
 

 
VOICES OF NEW ECONOMIES What if our economy were as focused on the flourishing of humans and the environment as it is on shareholder profits? That is one of the central questions tackled by the Voices of New Economies blog series and report, produced collectively by One Earth and the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet). The report’s five sections focus on rethinking economic fundamentals; healthy ecosystems, happy communities; building an inclusive economy; tools and policies to get us there; and new economies at work.  Voices of New Economies blog Image by Voices of New Economies

VOICES OF NEW ECONOMIES

What if our economy were as focused on the flourishing of humans and the environment as it is on shareholder profits? That is one of the central questions tackled by the Voices of New Economies blog series and report, produced collectively by One Earth and the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet). The report’s five sections focus on rethinking economic fundamentals; healthy ecosystems, happy communities; building an inclusive economy; tools and policies to get us there; and new economies at work. 

Voices of New Economies blog

Image by Voices of New Economies

 
Any new economic model must be committed to equity and ensure the inclusion of all citizens, including those who traditionally are the most disenfranchised.  

Any new economic model must be committed to equity and ensure the inclusion of all citizens, including those who traditionally are the most disenfranchised.

Timmer also calls for cities to use their collective voice. Cities are already increasingly acting in concert in order to pursue commons goals. “Networks such as the Urban Sustainability Directors Network and C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group are already joining their efforts, for example in advancing carbon-neutral and renewable cities,” says Timmer. As more and more of the world’s population lives in cities, this work will become only more critical.