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Urban sharing economy

Marcela Moraga Zarate
Marcela Moraga Zárate
(M.Sc) was awarded Habitat Norway's master's scholarship in 2022/23. Researcher at NTNU.
ROM / What do shared spaces and mobility mean for sustainable cities and regions? This is shown here by study examples from Santiago and Oslo.


In major cities around the world have population growthten led to increased urban density. It can be of great benefit to citizens, as services and facilities become more concentrated and cities become more functional. It gives people better access. Therefore, publicly accessible spaces and infrastructure, which everyone can share, become essential because people in big cities live closer than ever. Although more shared spaces and services have great potential in relation to realizing the sustainability goals, it is important to note that, despite this, urban spaces continue to function in an exclusionary manner.

Figure 1. Pictures of mobility points in the metropolitan areas of Santiago and Oslo Source: Author Zarate

The sharing economyske movement has in recent decades significantly influenced the development of cities. It has therefore been named 'the urban sharing economy', which emphasizes its relevance for urban environments. The collective consumption of goods and services that the sharing economy entails has the potential to contribute to social, economic and environmental sustainability. It can strengthen the connection between different communities. But concerns are widespread. The sharing economy movement has also been accused of lacking a social perspective and exacerbating societal inequalities when it is readily introduced in urban environments.

'Smart city' approaches, on the other hand, offer many good answers to everyday needs. But they too often lack an inclusive perspective. Perhaps especially in relation to users who are not skilled with digital solutions. The importance of working for increased inclusion therefore becomes fundamental in the fight against social inequalities.

Mobility points and sharing practices

In the face of reality and considering the enormous growth in the sharing economy movement as an urban phenomenon, it becomes important to understand the extent to which publicly accessible shared spaces and mobility around them are integrated into mobility points both in the global south and the global north.

Mobility points act as central hubs and attract different users. They offer good opportunities for investigating the interaction between overall purpose and real use of shared spaces. Furthermore, the study of examples from the Global South provides an interesting opportunity to study sharing practices where solutions often arise as a 'necessity'. And people consequently develop their own creative dynamics based on collaboration. On the other hand, examples from the global north with many digital and technological solutions often act as an inspiration for countries in the global south.

'Social practice' theory offers a valuable perspective. It recognizes the existence of factors that result in human practice and includes material resources, skills and mindsets. Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance of physical environments and involves a collective approach, in contrast to individual-focused theories such as behavioral planning.

Global South: The Santiago region of Chile

metropolises Santiago is the most densely populated region in Chile and huser 40 percent of the country's population (approx. 5,2 million people). Due to the city's sprawl, significant investment has been made in the transport sector, including modern metro lines. Recently, one has emerged with the largest fleet of electric buses in Latin America. However, on the Gini index, Chile registers high levels of inequality. Figure 2 shows the distribution of inequality in the city of Santiago, where high-income groups are represented in the north-eastern part of Santiago, middle-income groups in yellow, and low-income groups in red.

Figure 2. Map of the Santiago metropolitan area in terms of socio-economic level Source: Author's Work (2023), Based on a Map Developed by Juan Correa (2018).

Metro line 3 and sharing practices

In order to analyze the phenomenon of sharing practices based on the users' perspective, areas were selected around the newly built metro line 3. It was mainly completed in 2019. The assumption was that it should be conceptualized with a modern view of public space and intermodality. Considering the high levels of inequality and societal complexity in the region, four areas were selected based on two criteria: socio-economic level and diversity of users. On the east side there are areas with high income, while on the northwest side there are areas with low income. In addition, two of these have a high degree of temporary population, while the other two have a more permanent, local character.

The results show that at regional level the geographical distribution of inequality is reflected in sharing practices, which confirms the great inequalities in the city. Innovative infrastructure and other services that promote mobility are heavily concentrated in eastern and central areas. Furthermore, planning authorities currently lack a methodology for designing public spaces around metro stations. It contributes to higher levels of improvisation which in turn leads to greater inequality.

Pedestrians and cyclists become the protagonists of the street scene.

At municipal level, one is interested in promoting sharing practices, especially increased mobility. But they acknowledge obstacles in terms of infrastructure, financing and regulation. And ultimately ends up not seeing this as a priority.

A valuable practice that has been incorporated into society is the use of common taxis. It is a popular choice for women as it offers a safe option especially for the last part of the journey.

At the neighborhood level, sharing practices around mobility points were rare. And the design of public spaces around the metro stations did not help to promote this. It created what might be called 'pretentious' or 'dead' spaces. They lack the necessary measures to activate a vibrant public life. Fences contributed in most cases to insulation. Despite the current ban, street vendors were present in all the mobility points I analysed. It created lively conditions in these public spaces.

The global north: the Oslo region

Oslo's metropolitan area is also the densest in the country in terms of population and huser 25 percent of Norway's population (approx. 700 inhabitants). The region's development reflects a strong sustainability strategy. It is, for example, well developed in the National Transport Plan. Although levels of inequality are much lower in Norway, a study from 000 (Norlén) showed that some municipalities have high levels. Included in the Oslo region Oslo, Bærum and Drammen among these.

The study area that was analyzed in the Norwegian context is Drammen, specifically Strømsø. It is the most important mobility point in a municipality that has a high degree of commuting and a train station with frequent departures to Oslo.

Figure 3. Case Study Areas In the Santiago Metropolitan Region | Source: The author (2023).

The compact urban development model strongly encourages several, different sharing
practices at regional level. Interviews reveal that local authorities rely on public-private partnerships. It helps that more development goals can be achieved. An example of such partnerships at municipal level is Strømsø's feasibility study. It makes use of the area's special characteristics by introducing denser housing. And will change the landscape, so that pedestrians and cyclists become protagonists in the street scene. However, the plan entails a high risk of gentrification, and threatens to banish the immigrant communities on the eastern side of Strømsø.

In addition, the municipalities have challenges with regulating electricity scooters. Although it is relevant to note that Oslo municipality introduced some rules a couple of years ago that have contributed to improving conditions. At the neighborhood level, I found that sharing practices were more integrated. Most of the respondents declared that they engaged in sharing practices when it came to mobility and living space. At Strømsø, many expressed the desire for more community spaces in Globusgåren and in the neighbourhood.

Rethinking urban sharing

The sharing economy based on mobility services is a revolutionary tool that can provide great benefits for citizens and authorities. It can particularly contribute to more sustainable consumption patterns. To promote social justice, national politicians should encourage local governments to address lack of inclusion, cooperation and fair sharing practices. Sustainabilityinnovative funding mechanisms, innovative models and public-private partnerships can help overcome financial constraints. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of sharing initiatives is essential to measure effectiveness and identify areas for improvement.

In the studies, it became clear that urban design significantly influences human practice. While recent initiatives have combined urban design with sustainable shared spaces in several ways, there is a risk of increased inequality if the needs of vulnerable groups are not taken into account. This was clearly visible in examples from the global north and south.

Sharing space does not necessarily mean more care at the city level. Urban sharing practices must be targeted and make sense so that, despite different, individual motives, they contribute to sustainable measures, collective-based systems and local communities.

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