Airbnb is fighting back against perceptions that it is being booted out of New York City after an administrative law judge on Tuesday fined host Nigel Warren $2,400 for renting out a room in his East Village apartment for three nights.
Since Monday, Airbnb has been engaged in a media counter-offensive, largely focused on what it claims is exaggerated, incorrect media coverage.
“The ruling is being misinterpreted by the media,” wrote Molly Turner, head of public policy at Airbnb in an email to journalists and supporters.
Spokesperson Nick Papas told Shareable that the ruling was limited to the Warren case, did not set a precendent and not did not target Airbnb at large.
But those assessments may be a semantic as far as hosts are concerned.
While New York will not send out inspectors to enforce the ruling, it will respond when a complaint is filed, meaning that hosts could be on the hook for thousands of dollars if caught. Many Airbnb hosts are tenants themselves, and rent their flats on Airbnb without the express consent or knowledge of landlords.
As it has in the past, Airbnb responded to the ruling by advocating for better laws, better deals, and extra income for its users in tough economic times.
“Airbnb hosts are average people renting the homes they live in. It's time to clarify the law to protect the average New Yorker who needs help making ends meet.”
In 2010, New York set out to crack down on a wave of illegal hotel operators who were converting large numbers of affordable housing units into short-stay lodging. The judge based his decision on that law, which prohibits residents from renting property for less than 29 days.
In an entry on the company's blog, Airbnb’s head of global public policy, David Hantman said the law was never intended for a service like Airbnb, and that users such as Warren were being “targeted by overzealous enforcement officials.”
The headlines about New York “don’t tell the whole story,” he wrote. “We’re not going anywhere.”
However, Airbnb says it will start warning hosts that they need to be aware of local laws.
Only five years ago, I was a mid-level sales manager in a large U.S. Software Vendor in their southern regional headquarters of Melbourne, Australia. My territory was as large as the continental United States and I travelled the length and breadth of the country every two weeks, for days at a time, to ensure that my annual $2 million quota would be met.
I lived with my wife and our seven-year-old twin children in a suburban house that was well over our budget—but somehow this didn’t seem to matter as credit was free-flowing. It was filled with all the things that we just had to have. At the time I was on a true coffee bender, the only way that I could even out my seventy to eighty-hour work weeks and the bi-coastal three to four hour time differences. Naturally, this required the serious services of the Isomac Italian made, Cafe Standard espresso machine, with it’s price tag of two grand.
After 15 years of this lifestyle, my health was rapidly failing under my 220 pound, 5ft 9” frame. The impact of real-time connectivity meant that an endless flow of emails, texts, Skype conferences and phone calls ensured that I was reachable anywhere at any moment, and implicitly set the expectation that a response was required immediately. Not a moment of my time was really mine, and quality family time was scant. Add a mandatory client entertainment regimen of fine wining and dining and cocktail hours to this equation, and you get a very unsustainable lifestyle.
When I think back, though, it wasn’t my physical state that was at its weakest, though it was declining rapidly—it was my optimism. An “anything is possible” outlook on life that had been my greatest strength up until then was at its lowest ebb ever. For the first time ever, I could see no way out.
It was a hot summer’s night in January of 2008 when I drove the regular 40 minute drive to the suburbs, arriving at 9 p.m. to our over-mortgaged house filled with credit card debt. I went to my wife, Bobi, our children long asleep, to show her the spreadsheet of the unsustainable nature of our lifestyle.
More than the finances, I desperately needed Bobi to see and understand that another five years of this would see me in my grave. It didn’t need a sales pitch. She looked me in the eyes and she completely understood my plight, and how lost I was. It only took a second: she suggested we sell the house immediately.
“This place is not who we are, and our lives and happiness are not dependent on its upkeep,” she told me.
With all her love for me and our children, Bobi helped me to see and understand that the fantasy of owning our place, was not the same as building a home, and that no matter where we were, as long as we were together, we would always be at home.
The First Steps of Transformation
Not three weeks later, our house was sold. We rented a house further away from the city, which added 20 minutes to my daily commute, but made sense to us—we felt a need to be closer to nature. This paid off in dividends—although not as we had anticipated, because only a few months into our two year lease, I was called into the office by two of my co-workers and informed, unceremoniously, that I was being arbitrarily made redundant. I had been the region’s number one sales person for nearly three years running, but my job as I knew it, was suddenly gone. Driving our gas-guzzling Nissan Patrol home my head spun with disastrous apocalyptic scenarios, and fits of rage and anger at the senselessness of their reasoning.
Yet, two days later, my sagging heart began to beat at a normal rate, and my long face began to relax. At home on a sunny winter afternoon, no phone calls or emails, I found myself in the first real moment to think and breath in nearly 16 years. Again, it was my beautiful wife that told me not to search for a job and instead, for us to use the frequent flyer points I had accumulated over the last year to take a trip to Japan, a place that we had both very much wanted to experience.
Nine days after being made redundant, the towering skyscrapers of an almost completely urbanized Japan surrounded us. In the Nishiki Markets, almost directly in the center of old Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, our first real course-changing idea dawned on us.
Other Doors to Perception
Drawn in by the glimmering lights reflecting off some incredibly large crystals, my wife and I stood in the middle of a massive crystal shop. After a heavy day of Shinto shrining, temple visiting and walking, we were almost completely physically drained, but we felt an electromagnetic resonance pulling us in. In the moment of entry, free flowing energies inundated us at once—both soothing and incredibly energizing. Like children in a candy store, running from crystal to crystal, we sampled the unique energy signatures of each crystal. While we liked crystals, before this experience, we had never felt even the slightest energetic signature from a crystal. After just fifteen minutes we were energized enough to run a half marathon and had a clarity of thought, with a mutual realization at its center: so many of us are living deeply unsatisfying, unsustainable lives, in the total pursuit of a dream sold to us when we were very young and reinforced everyday by a consumerist society, by our peers and their fear-filled need to be the same.
We realized that, for the majority of people, saying “No” to this lifestyle isn’t an option. Like me, only a few months prior, many people can’t see a way out that would not cause great pain, suffering or humiliation.
We walked out of that shop determined never to return to an unsustainable, consumer-driven style of life. In our hearts a different way of living had become crystal clear, for us, for people like us, for the world.
This idea that a practical and balanced lifestyle was possible for everyone, without having to compromise our principals, mortgage our values and be who we were not, became the basis of a workshop my wife and I began as soon as we returned: a balanced and sustainable lifestyle, for busy people. We called it CrystalSpirit—the real science behind crystals unified the metaphysical explanations as to how crystals actually physically affect our cognition, increase our awareness of being and equip us with the realization that the power to choose this non-compromised way of living was always completely in our hands.
The workshops were met with great support, especially from those highly skeptical of crystals. With the science explained, people were now able to build the bridge between the mystical and how crystals actually work. Think about it, if only 35 years ago, someone were to tell you that the entire Encyclopedia Britannica was contained on a shinny little round disk, you might have had a laugh. With the science explaining it, it was no longer incredulous for many to accept that crystals had unique information for each of us and that it was through our liquid crystal biological nature, through our very own blood and the scientific principal of resonance, that information was transceived (radio terminology for transmitted and received) between human and crystal.
The workshops were a bold move, to follow what our hearts called us to do, but we consciously co-opted the energies around us to come to our aid. No, I didn’t take a course in “The Secret,” but rather experienced for the first time, that when you determine that you are going to act in generosity, in a fore-giving way, (to give before you receive), people aware of this frequency—attuned to its resonant electromagnetic waves—rally to your aid.
This interaction and reinforcement with all the people we came into contact with in our workshops and related activities (like the scientist who attended our workshop), planted the seed in our minds that whatever efforts we invested for the benefit of all, would always be met with support from other humans.
Family Time Inspires a Re-Imagined Education
Wanting to experience being together as much as we could as a family somehow became paramount at this point. With our young children in particular, we felt a strong affinity to taking back our responsibility as parents and becoming the primary providers of their education.
Working from home, the question “Who is really raising our children?” rose to the surface of our daily realities. Both our daughter, Réka and son, Lalika, were already in advanced reading and mathematical programs, but we saw a huge gap between the enforced standardized educational system and the rounded development of a naturally giving human being capable of making their own mindful decisions and who also took others into consideration.
Our need to create an environment of mutual learning, was driven by a common experience and respect of each other’s lives. Without it, our society would continue to produce automatons who obediently complete repetitive tasks without question. There is nothing for us, as a family, to gain out of supporting an outdated schooling system created to sustain the industrial revolution, now long gone. Nor would does this benefit the world.
A glaring problem became apparent: our children’s educational environment failed to encourage, or neglected to incorporate, creative thinking, where limitations and expectations are no longer part of the learning process.
We took our children out of school and started the process of un-schooling, or helping our children unlearn and let go of the repetitive robotic “need for an answer” type of thinking they were indoctrinated with. Instead, we started taking everything in life, from a flat tire to a meteor shower to making a sandwich to something they saw on tv and turning it into a learning experience, keeping wonder alive.
The most important part of this new educational model was that our children drove the learning experience—which now sees Réka seeking a publisher for her pre-teen travel adventure blogs and Lalika about to launch a crowdfunding campaign to support the production and distribution of a mindfulness board game he created, the intention of which is to unify humanity, the profits of which he wants to use to support humanitarian projects around the world.
We had created a mutual learning environment that over a three-year period had a gradual and natural progression, without pain, ridicule, suffering or humiliation. It illuminated our understanding that if we wanted our children to really be in a position to create a better world, we had to set a living example; become an active part of the solution.
Learning and Living Resourcefully
During this three year period, we moved twice, which included our sea-change to the beautiful Mornington Peninsula at the tip of Melbourne’s reaches. At our back door was the National Park—on one side, kangaroos hopping about the steep hills overlooking the ocean, and the bay on the other, a truly spectacular and energizing view. We often spent our time together as a family walking the length of the peninsula to explore each new trail.
To combine resources and extend our family, together with my mother, we lived in a duplex and then a smaller house. For the first time, we realized just how wonderful it was to share life’s experiences together as an extended family. We had many Indian friends, and their recollections of home life with three to four generations living in the one house was a rich tapestry of human connection, lost in today’s norm of separation. Knowledge, wisdom and love is also lost.
Living on the Mornington Peninsula in close quarters provoked a constant state of learning how to do more with less, to spend less, to find creative solutions, to look to community, family and friends for solutions. While our workshops had been effective and well received, we realized that to affect the type of change in the world that we were speaking of to our children, we had to create something that would have global reach and help to realize a less self-centered world.
The Birth of EnergeticXChange
I cannot tell why it was that particular morning, in the fourth year of our journey, that the idea was so lucid in my mind when I awoke. The sun was shining and I noticed Bobi was already up. An idea, luminous, yet still unformed, was blaring in my head. It’s the type of idea that you have to rapidly verbalize before it becomes hazy and you lose it forever. I ran to Bobi like an excited child wanting to express it. Thankful for the investment in the cheap whiteboard we had acquired for homeschooling, with Bobi’s help, within 10 minutes we were able to map it out completely: The Law of Energetic Exchange. For every need out there on the planet, there is a corresponding offering, ready, willing and waiting to meet that need.
There are seven billion people on the planet and through our four-year journey since selling our house, our gas guzzling Nissan Patrol, and other assets to keep us afloat, we had come to understand that somewhere out there, someone was always ready to meet our need. We have experienced this first hand many times, the most recent being six weeks ago when we were stranded in Valparaiso, Chile. The greedy banks had withheld a deposit we were waiting on for over five days. We had 1500 Chilean Pesos or the equivalent of six vegetable empanadas. It was the first moment we considered that we might just have to sleep with the children at the bus station. It was the generosity of the hotel manager, who without question, was willing to let us stay, knowing we had no money in the bank.
Understanding for most people, the challenge was in knowing where to go to when you are in need, we set out to develop EnergeticXChange; a place of gathering where people could place their offerings and needs, having them matched in an orchestrated energetic balance—the natural equation of human giving.
To develop this not-for-profit project, we sold the last of everything else we had in the world, our 2005 Hyundai Elantra, 55” HD 1080P Sony TV, our 24” Mac Computers, Beds, Dinning Suite, Lounge Suites, Cabinets, Super Expensive Spinning Bike, Refrigerator, Freezer, BBQ, and among all the things, of course, the ISOMAC Coffee Machine, which I can say more than retained its value. We also received a generous donation from my father, my mother and mother-in-law, which allowed us to go forward in launching the EnergeticXChange website, dedicated to assist in the creation of a new economic paradigm where every human being is of equal worth and equal importance, because what they have to offer will meet the need of another human being on the planet and therefore everything offered, now has equal value.
That was 15 months ago. We are now living EnergeticXChange.
It would be impossible for the message of EnergeticXChange to ring true for families and communities if we did not live this law, too, so EnergeticXChange has become our life.
Wherever we are, our needs are always met. Like the Franciscan priest from downtown Detroit, who was instrumental in helping us reach our next destination of Connecticut, his gift of $80 allowing us to make the final leg of a journey to a friend’s place, even though we had just met.
Inner trust is what sustains our knowledge, our resolve and energy to continue.
The EnergeticXChange website is not only the global gathering place we envisioned, but it is also the first practical and simple tool that can ensure that all offerings meet all needs on the planet. It works very simply and there are no fees, no commercials, no catches and no hidden corporate agendas. Anyone can register, or sign in with their Facebook ID.
It is then as easy as placing your first offering and placing your first need if you have one. This requires just a little thought, but when you start thinking, you will find you have much that you can offer. Examples vary from a blender, to a power drill, to offering to cook someone a meal, sharing knowledge, helping in a garden—the list is endless. You might think it a difficult prospect to give, but you will find that the opportunity to give naturally finds you.
With what we have, we have found it almost effortless to give. Most recently we found ourselves in a bakery in Bogota at 10 p.m. Having just ordered some bread to share in a meal with our friend, one of the many young homeless men came into the bakery to sell us a DVD, the money from which he could use to buy an evening in a flop house so that he would not have to sleep on the street. We had plenty of bread and we asked him if he was hungry and to join us. While we did not have much money ourselves, we gave him what we could and we were gifted with the opportunity to meet and know another human being.
Interestingly, there are six times as many offerings in the EnergeticXChange system as there are needs. And while we are only in the hundreds, we are making connections, from Miami to Los Angeles, Rio to Quito, Auckland to Kuala Lumpur, Ouagadougou to Zanzibar, Sydney to London, Hamburg to Budapest, New York to Connecticut, where people are meeting and needs are being met.
A system like EnergeticXChange can succeed only if we all participate. Participation means not only getting your offerings and needs into the system, but also to start using social networking for what I truly believe it was meant to be used for. Imagine just how many of your offerings could go to your 1,000 or 2,000 Facebook friends, or how many things they may have that you need, that would never require you to spend a cent—if you just asked.
I am adamant that we could stop at least 30% of our annual spending on one-use items that end up gathering dust in our closets, or put into paid storage never to see the light of day. Yet. most of us are stopped by the social norms we have accepted—to ask is not only a sign of weakness, but also a stigma, burned on our foreheads, advertising our failure to achieve in this society. This is why so many people out there today feel trapped and yet continue to play the game, in silence, living deeply unsatisfying lives. How did we get this way? It’s an interesting phenomena, that something we learned in kindergarden—sharing— could be so hard to do as adults.
Taking Our Message on the Road
We left Australia a year ago to share what we have learned and to learn what anyone else is willing to share.
With kids in tow, we spent six months travelling the USA and five months traveling through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Panama, and blogged about our journey. In South America we met with and made real human connections with communities with little money that are rich beyond means in what they have to offer the world—from the people of the rich lush Valley of Longevity, in Southern Ecuador to the last descendants of the Inca still living their traditional life style, facing life’s challenges and thriving at 15,500 ft in the Peruvian Andes.
EnergeticXChange is beginning to make great headways into Africa, too, where something that you may not have used in a few years would be greatly useful and make a difference in places like Zimbabwe, where the people have been struck for years now with economic hardship. It is not just Zimbabwe, but also South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and as far as Burkina Faso that are joining, where there are real people you could get to know and be richer from your experience of participation.
EnergeticXChange is about the human connection. Every exchange is a filament of light connection, that I have no doubt, will set light to a wave of third party connections and initiatives at grassroots levels that will make Australian bushfires look tame.
Successful exchanges so far include classes and courses, city tours, accommodations, energetic healing, a water filter for drinking water, and help on a farm, just to name a few. There are needs posted for organic seeds, a fridge, and book delivery, and there are offers of a home cooked meal, assistance self publishing an e-book, and professional business coaching.
The Future Lies in Sharing
Donald Trump, in a recent interview, predicted the dire economic collapse of the United States. Perhaps this would be true, if we all lived like Donald Trump or worse, just continue to live as we constantly have...consuming without questioning.
As I sit here in our very modest 1990 R.V., parked in the Hungarian Community Center in Miami Florida, preparing to engage in dialogue with this community as to how we can combine our energies and efforts in Common-Unity to bring about real change, I reflect back to the 10,000 miles our R.V. has taken us around the U.S. over the last year. All the communities and beautiful people we have gotten to know, throughout the 28 States of the USA and in all countries in South America we have visited so far, on our journey of EnergeticXChange.
Our journey reminds me with great contentment and much gratitude, that it wasn’t always like this. We were there, in crisis, and we realized that it would only continue to be a crisis if we chose to keep living that life. From a budget of $12,000 per month spent on an unsustainable life, we whittled our way all the way down to a budget of less than $1,000 per month in Ecuador.
Living frugally now, we are content. All we had to do was take a breath, listen to our heart, really hear what it was saying to us and confidently take our first step in EnergeticXChange, knowing that our every step is always supported.
Everything we have done in the last five years is about challenging the accepted way most people are living their lives. People are mindlessly consuming in the belief that meaning or happiness can be found in the next purchase of red high heel pumps, that shirt, the 90” 3D HDTV or that two weeks of vacation can somehow make up for the 50 weeks of indentured servitude we sell ourselves into willingly, to find that dream. It is a dream as illusive as the Matrix and no amount of consuming will fill the gap of endless unhappiness.
We started a journey that would help every family and every individual on the planet to meet all their needs and we believe we have created the world’s first simple and practical solution.
How You Can Help
Our goal is to establish a hub of EnergeticXChange activity on every human-inhabited continent. We are seeking EnergeticXChange ambassadors—people in their communities who believe that together, we can meet the needs of everyone and will assist in commuinty outreach. We already have 22 countries registered and by the end of the northern hemisphere summer, we would hope to see this figure to double. And while we have personally funded the project up until now, we are seeking funding to help us expand throughout the developed and developing world.
Aside from individuals, we would like corporations to register their interest to participate, not for reward or brand recognition (not that there is anything bad about brand recognition), but in a true meaningful manner; in the understanding that their corporate goodwill, will make a difference toward transforming this planet.
At what point did childhood switch from sticks and stones to gadgets and gizmos? Used to be, kids had to create their own imaginary worlds in which to seek adventure. They would stay outside in the woods or the yard, the park or the pool, playing with friends and coming inside only to grab a quick bite. And there were quite often forts and fantasies involved. It was in that space where kids learned creativity, leadership, and cooperation.
These days, though, childhood is electronically powered and wrapped in plastic, top to bottom. It is tamed into near extinction and available in only 2D. Between computers, televisions, video games, movies, and smartphones, kids are spending a whopping seven hours a day -- on average -- in front of screens. And studies show that their grades and behavior are all the worse for it, with violence, sex, drugs, and alcohol usage increasing in correlation to screen time.
This Heal Our World, Heal Our Selves infographic, sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, lays out in stark relief the trend upward in kids' screen time. The data only goes back to 1999, though, or it would show an even sharper curve. If memory serves, the kids of the 1970s spent maybe two hours in front of the evening television. Of course, come 1981, MTV upped that ante considerably, but it was still nowhere near the seven hours a day being tossed in today.
Check out the findings cited. Are these trends evident in the young people in your life?
Infographic authored by BALANCE for Heal Our World <--> Heal Ourselves, a campaign for more uplifting Children's Entertainment. To view the original post, see the original Growing Up On Screens infographic.
A recurring theme in commencement addresses is to embrace failure. The reason for this, I suppose, is that most graduates headed out into the world are going to be knocked on their asses at one time or another. The speakers trying to instill the motivation to get back up after a real-life smackdown by sharing their own experiences of failure followed by success.
Another recurring theme is the importance of being true to who you are and listening to your own unique, inner voice. The future is wide open for fresh-faced graduates. What better time to design a life full of joy and fulfillment rather than soul-numbing, life-wasting misprioritization.
Here are five commencement speeches that send electrifying and inspiring messages for creating a great life; a life that values imagination, community, self-actualization, perseverance and purpose, free from the fear of failure.
Neil Gaiman at the University of the Arts, 2012
Writer Neil Gaiman waxes poetic on the beauty of not knowing what you’re doing, not doing things just for the money, being courageous enough to expose your heart and mind, and the importance of doing what you feel you were put here to do.
J. K. Rowling at Harvard, 2008
J.K. Rowling, the mastermind behind the Harry Potter stories delivers a funny, thought-provoking speech that covered the wisdom of failure, the importance of imagination and the power of empathizing with others to create a better world.
David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College, 2005
In 2005, author David Foster Wallace gave a commencement address to Kenyon College graduates. A few years later, a video was made of the speech’s highpoints. The resulting video went viral and has been viewed over 5 million times. In his address, Wallace talks about the danger of letting life’s routines turn us into cynical, flat humans who are disconnected from those around us. Instead, he advises us to consciously choose where our thoughts and priorities are, letting life’s little boredoms connect us to ourselves and each other.
Steve Jobs at Stanford, 2005
In this eerily foretelling commencement address, Steve Jobs talks about dropping out of college to follow his own interests, why his very public failure turned out to be the best thing that happened to him, and how the inevitably of our own death is a powerful teacher.
Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane University, 2009
Ellen DeGeneres began her commencement speech, not surprisingly, with jokes, and she sprinkles them liberally throughout her speech. But she also dips into soulful territory as she tells the story of her own career that was born out of a personal tragedy. She talks about the importance of being honest with yourself, finding your purpose, and living a compassionate life. Her final words to the crowd, before she launched into her trademark dance session, were, if you stay true to yourself and show people your brain, you’re going to be OK.
Beginning my second semester as a graduate student of Urban Planning and Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I was excited and eager to learn. The previous semester was beyond exhilarating and motivating as I read and absorbed theory from urban planners, historians, engineers, scientists, philosophers. Planning had provided me with insight into some of the most pressing big picture questions that led me to graduate school.
But all the hope and excitement and anticipation that kept me reading even over Christmas break came to a crushing halt. I had bills to pay, I lost focus on outside commitments, and spread myself so thin with school, work and assisting that I have never been so disappointed. Confused at the time, I went to a professor for advice. “You need to decide, are you an organizer or are you a planner?” This was the advice that was given to me when I proposed taking on a Shareable internship.
I decided I’m an organizer for this semester. With this internship, I could commit to ten hours more flexibly on my own time, pursue some on the ground organizing to support the sharing economy in Chicago, and still pay my bills without sacrificing my education. The planner works with paper, the organizer works with people. The planner preaches, while the organizer practices, which feels more genuine to me.
My chosen project for the internship was to organize a series of skillshares at UIC. Building on previous potlucks at the Jane Addams Hull House, the first organizing potluck for the skillshares drew in an engaged group of MUPPS (Masters of Urban Planning and Policy Students), some of whom had previously met to create real connection and work on practical projects together.
We had a second meeting of the newly formed skillshare committee to brainstorm what we wanted to learn, what we had to share with others, and how we would organize it. Though the skillshare concept was new to most MUPPS, they were very enthusiastic about the idea. We decided on a campus-wide skillshare fest all on one day, instead of a series of skillshares to draw more students in just following finals. We scheduled the Thrive and Survive Skillshare for May 3rd at the UIC Latino Cultural Center, the African American Cultural Center, and the Jane Addams Hull House.
A week later, we organized an on campus bike skillshare that led to the initiation of several bike events and summer bike skillshares. The skillshares created bonding among students as well as sparking more sharing - information, networks, tools and resources. We had another planning potluck before the big skillshare on May 3rd where we discussed all the logistics. It was well attended with about a dozen volunteers ready to commit to doing it all again next year and forming a student organization to institutionalize it beyond the current cohort.
With a majority of my time spent planning the skillshare event, time for communication and outreach became the biggest obstacle. It wasn’t just the late season snow in Chicago - student time constraints and the academic calendar are definitely barriers to organizing events with students. Though we collaborated with Chicago Time Exchange and We Farm to put on the event, more support from the University certainly would have been helpful, but was challenging to coordinate on such a short timeline. I also learned that food is a great incentive and potlucks are a great way to bridge connections!
The Thrive and Survive May 3rd skillshare ended up being a great organizing and planning experience. In all we had 8 skillshares including: How to grow your own food, Basics of composting, Community gardening and Biking 101, Basic design, Excel quick tips, Networking, and Yoga.
Given more time, we would prefer to build up a strong coalition through small group skillshares that could then provide the reach to undergraduates for a successful campus-wide event. There’s no perfect plan and the successful skillshares that occurred within the organizing UP2 MUPPS group possessed passion, participation and realness, echoing my previous experiences with organizing. With a dedicated team of MUPPs, we are confident we will continue doing skillshares at UIC and make it a cultural institution next year.
When it comes to growing your customer base, the trick is knowing their motivations inside and out.
Airbnb is conducting a number of surveys to better understand why its current customers use the service, and how to attract more.
Early adopters have raved about the appeal of "sharing" private property, but Airbnb is exploring whether a bigger block of customers might be attracted by tweaking the messaging a bit.
Ipsos Public Affairs conducted a first poll on behalf of Airbnb and released the results on Monday. Amongst the findings: respondents like the idea of sharing possessions or skills with strangers to save or make money. But when it comes to actually doing so, far fewer are willing to take the plunge.
Amongst the 2,000 plus adults polled across the United States, 56% agreed with the notion that being able to borrow or rent private property or belongings from a stranger is “a great way to save money.” Similarly, 47% agreed that sharing one’s property or possessions online is a great way to make extra cash.
Despite these favorable attitudes, only 17% (slightly more than a third) reported having actually shared or rented anything with someone they didn’t previously know.
The survey asked about skills, tools, rooms, entire houses and cars.
When it comes to Airbnb’s core business, only 6% surveyed acknowledged having shared a room in their home, and 3% their entire homes.
“There is a lot of room for growth and opportunity there,” said Emily Joffrion, manager of consumer strategy and insights for Airbnb.
The survey is the first of many the company will conduct to get a better understanding of its customers and what motivates them.
On a positive note for Airbnb, 60% of those surveyed say they see the “sharing economy” as a new trend. The trick for Airbnb is accelerating it.
“The fact that awareness was very high, but participation lower, shows a disconnect,” said Joffrion, who added that the problem may lie in the concept of “sharing” itself.
“Maybe that paradigm needs to be changed or altered.”
Author Katharina Frosch (Germany) is an innovation economist working on social innovation in urban agriculture, Co-Founder of http://stadtgarten.org and http://mundraub.org which won sustainability awards in 2010 and 2011 from the German Council for Sustainable Development.
In a rural area in the former East Germany, late summer 2009: Shimmering heat, the intense odor of fermenting fruits is in the air. A tree covered with hundreds of juicy pears, and a foot-high layer of rotting fruit on the ground. A stone’s throw away – plums, mirabelles, elder bushes and every now and then an apple tree along the path, maybe of an old, rare variety. An abundance of fresh fruit – in normal seasons, much more than needed to feed birds, insects and other animals – forgotten, abandoned, unused.
Is this our common fruit? Are we invited to harvest it? Today, at least in Germany, unowned fruit trees formally do not exist. Orchards situated outside human settlements are mostly in private hands, even if there is no fence around them. The mile-long fruit tree alleys characteristic of many regions, particularly in the former East Germany, are state- or region-owned. Fruit trees in parks belong to the cities. Harvesting apples without asking the owner amounts to stealing.
The clash between abundant but forgotten fruit in the public space – and the lack of information about property rights – calls for action. Whom to ask if we see an apparently forgotten fruit tree, full to bursting? The mundraub (1) website invites people to tag forgotten fruit trees on an interactive map and to locate existing trees that can be harvested. The website sets forth basic rules to respect private property and prevent damage to the trees and the natural environment, and calls for fair play in general.
In the first two years since the website launch in 2009, more than half a million people have accessed the site, and several hundred are actively contributing to the fruit tree map. The map currently lists about 3,000 “find spots,” which roughly correspond to 20,000 – 30,000 trees. So is the rediscovery of common fruit based on the mundraub map another confirmation of Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize-winning theories about community self-management of common goods?
Some prophets of doom warned that the mundraub website would incite swarms of reckless, hungry urban dwellers to savage private fruit plantations in the countryside and drive local farmers to ruin. However, there is no evidence that tree damage or stolen fruit have increased since the launch of the website. Users seem to intuitively adopt a responsible attitude. More than once, a “find spot” was taken off the platform at the request of users, lest it get over-used.
While most of the 150 press articles about the mundraub initiative focused on “fruit for free,” most users are strongly committed to the idea of sharing and crowdsourcing.(2) They are far more concerned about contributing than in getting something for free. They tag trees, discuss botanical issues and recipes connected to local fruit. Perhaps most importantly, fruit-pickers tell splendid anecdotes about the find spot.
Indeed, the information about the location of free fruit trees, property rights and some how-to rules provided on mundraub.org helps Mundräuber to jointly overtake responsibility for the fruity abundance. It’s wholly self-organized, and beyond the market and state in the very ways described by the Ostrom school. Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go: To conserve common fruit trees in the long run, regularly cutting the fruit trees and replanting young ones will be necessary. But the first move towards our common fruit has been made.
1.In German, “Mundraub” – literally, “mouth robbers” – refers to the theft of something edible in a strict legal sense, but the term has friendly, joking connotations, as implied by “filching” or “pilfering” in English.
2.In this context, crowdsourcing means the collaborative and self-organized collection and management of information about common fruit trees by a large number of self-motivated actors interacting on mundraub.org, most of whom are unknown to the website operators.
The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 was epic. The brainchild of Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, it was the first event of its kind and it sent a game-changing ripple of awareness and activism through the country. It jump-started the green movement, brought environmental concerns to national attention and unified citizens, academics, scientists, conservationists, politicians and students under one banner. But the real brilliance of the original Earth Day was that it was a decentralized, get-in-where-you-fit-in event that activated millions of people from nearly all walks of life. It's estimated that 35,000 people gave speeches.
As we approach the second annual Global Sharing Day on June 2nd, Earth Day 1970 can serve as a reminder that it’s not startups or government or big organizations that will bring sharing mainstream, but everyday people. Inspiring ordinary people to action is what will bring about positive change. This is what Earth Day 1970 did.
From Alaska to the deep South, people were encouraged to celebrate Earth Day in whatever ways addressed their unique environmental concerns. Though there were leaders and organizing committees who offered ideas to those who wanted them, Nelson and his team got the Earth Day ball rolling, then did something brilliant: they got out of the way. They relied on individual communities to celebrate the day as they saw fit and trusted that the result would be something transformative.
“Part of the genius of the first Earth Day,” says Adam Rome, author of the book The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation, “was that Gaylord Nelson was wise enough not to make everyone try to follow one plan. Thousands of people were able to take ownership of the event and think very imaginatively about what they could do.”
The beauty of this approach was that people created events that reflected the specific needs and concerns of their communities. In New York City, two streets in the heart of Manhattan were temporarily closed to cars and opened to an estimated 250,000 Earth Day celebrators; in Miami, eco-activists poured yellow dye into sewage treatment plants to show where sewage dumped into waterways goes; Birmingham, Ala. saw a week-long series of talks and events aimed at pressuring local business owners and politicians to address the community’s air pollution crisis; a group of people in California walked from Sacramento to Los Angeles, talking to people along the way about pollution, recycling, oil spills, deforestation and more; Philadelphia stretched its schedule of speakers and events over several days, creating the first Earth Week; people in Fairbanks, Alaska organized a series of teach-ins about a proposed oil pipeline that would cut through the wilderness.
From concerts and family-friendly gatherings in parks to lectures, teach-ins and protests, Earth Day spurred people to act but didn’t tell them how. The result was that word spread far and fast and the nation saw over 20,000 unique Earth Day events.
Amazingly, in an era before Facebook and Twitter were even shadow of a thought, Earth Day went viral and united millions of people under its banner. But the thing that allowed Earth Day to spread so far and make such a tremendous impact was that the banner people were unified under was not one of agreed-upon actions, but an agreement that there was an environmental crisis that needed to be addressed. The call was not to take a specific action, but to take action.
People had different ideas about how to solve pressing environmental problems. Some had radical critiques of American consumerism and capitalism and felt that a societal overhaul was in order; some felt that the problems could be solved with new legislation; some saw community action such as lakeside cleanups and local teach-ins as the best approach.
“Ultimately, since the problems were so many and they had different roots, they could be approached in different ways,” says Rome. “That turned out to be a great strength. People could go off and do things that were really quite important and constructive without having to agree with what other people were doing.”
Earth Day 1970 was not the beginning of environmental awareness and activism. Before Earth Day, there were conservationists working to protect water, wildlife and land; scientists studying the effects of pollution on ecosystems; students organizing and protesting around environmental issues and everyday people working to clean up their backyards. But, they were primarily working in their own realms. Earth Day unified all these groups and causes and created a focused push of awareness, action and community.
One reason that Earth Day 1970 was so widespread was that--in large part due to Nelson’s position as a Senator--mainstream media picked up the story. Unlike today, where there are more news outlets than one can shake a smartphone at, in 1970 there were far fewer sources of news and information and if key outlets picked up a story, smaller papers followed suit. News of Earth Day was featured in Time, Newsweek, the New York Times and more. From there, it trickled into the local news in towns across the country. From the outset, these towns were encouraged to create their own Earth Day events.
Activating communities of all shapes and sizes brought the environmental crisis to public attention and also demonstrated the need for organized approaches to solving it. In the wake of Earth Day came the creation of eco-focused community centers and educational programs, environmental studies classes and departments, local activism networks, environmental nonprofits, and government organizations including the Environmental Protection Agency. Earth Day inspired many people to shift their career path to focus on the environment.
“The most impressive and important part of Earth Day,” says Rome, “was the thousands and thousands of individuals who said, ‘This is what I want to work on.’ There really were no career paths for people who were interested in addressing environmental issues back then,” he continues. “They had to be very entrepreneurial about how they personally, given their own abilities and interests, could make a difference.”
The parallels between the first Earth Day and sharing events, including Global Sharing Day are striking. Many of the concerns are the same: the habitability of the planet; the massive environmental problems we’re leaving future generations; the unsustainability of our insatiable consumer culture. As the sharing movement makes its way into mainstream society there are gems of knowledge that can be gleaned from the approach that Nelson took in 1970; primarily the fact that activated, imaginative, empowered individuals and communities have a power that can’t be induced by top-down approaches.
Organized sharing events present great opportunities to demonstrate the strength and passion of a bottom-up movement. The participatory aspect is what drives the sharing movement and it is what will encourage mainstream culture to embrace it.
As Rome points out, it helps to have some focal point, whether a person or a group, to rally people around an issue, or way of thinking, but the challenge for the sharing movement at large is to be like Gaylord Nelson: inspire action then get out of the way.
“The idea that you don’t try to prescribe what everyone needs to do, that you don’t have one overriding agenda is critical,” says Rome. “You have to let your idea go where it goes. If people want suggestions about what they can do, great. But it’s even better,” he adds, “if people come up with their own ways of thinking about it and doing things.”
For more information about the first Earth Day and the transformative effect it had on the environmental movement, pick up Adam Rome's book, The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-In Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation. Purchases made through the provided affiliate link support Shareable, a nonprofit. The book may also be available at your library or independent bookstore.
Not too long before graduation, I lay in my room, reflecting on how my food, school and my apartment was paid for with money that doesn’t even exist—loans. I had been living in a fantasy world for four years. None of it seemed real because I wasn’t yet monetarily supporting my living expenses. I sat up and imagined holding a 9-to-5 job to keep this apartment, this city, and keep my material possessions upon graduation.
While reflecting on this, I asked myself if I valued my apartment, if I valued my possessions, and if I valued living in a city. Was I willing to work a full-time office job to uphold these luxuries? When it came down to it, I absolutely did not find any value in working just to uphold any of those things. It was an easy decision to make, but now what?
A January report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that “about 48 percent of employed US college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests requires less than a four-year college education.” That number included 37 percent in jobs requiring no more than a high school diploma. According to one Pew Research Center report, “a record one in five households now owe student loan debt.” It’s apparent that college students are not left with many obvious options. You get a degree, to maybe get a job, to make a living and try to pay off your loans—that’s it. A flow chart on Shareable explains this phenomenon further. I thought, “There HAS to be another way.”
To allow ease of transition is to identify personal life values. If it helps, make a list of your core values. Knowing your values will help shape the path you take. It begins to make things a lot clearer for you, college graduate, to really make a plan. Your values will turn into aspirations and dreams, aspirations and dreams will turn into goals, and in-between is the fun part. A few of my values can be summed up in one quote by Ghandi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world."
When talking about skills, let’s face it: many people tend to limit their skills to their degree. However, growing up in the digital era and being fresh out of college is advantageous. Every post-college individual can write, effectively use social media, speak publicly, critically think, and problem-solve. Add this to the plethora of skills gained through your major and any hobbies you have. Brainstorm a list of every skill you can think of to help you craft your dream.
Skills + Values + Goals = Success
As you begin to explore your post-college opportunities, remember it’s just a fun game to play. Just like school, it’s a test for us to figure out how we are most happy so we can enjoy life to the fullest. Explore some interesting things you can do after college to fully utilize your values, strengths, opportunities, passions, and resources.
Ask a Friend
If you decide that getting a job to pay your bills is the first road you want to take, reach out to your employed and recently graduated friends or colleagues to see if they can refer you for a position. If the job isn’t interesting, do what you can to lower expenses and save so you can have the freedom to create a new adventure for yourself.
Work in Nature
On the other hand; being in nature, traveling, learning survival skills, and wilderness exploration could also define your immediate future. Apply to work for the National Park Service, which offers opportunities in 379 national parks. Emily Lawlor, college graduate, WWOOFed on almost 20 farms while taking the summer to work in different national parks all over the United States as a wilderness ranger or trail worker. Emily explains her passion of experiential living and learning: “I have valued experience as the most influential learning tool in my life.”
Emily Lawlor hiking the Continental Divide Trail, March 25, 2013. (Photo: Anthony Aiuppa)
WWOOFing allows anyone to securely explore the globe through experiential learning on sustainable farms by trading a full day of work for food and accommodation. WWOOFing is a viable way to spend a week, a month, a summer, or a year or more learning, trading time, and traveling. Andrew Fair, an experienced WWOOFer in Italy, offers his words of WWOOFing wisdom: “It changed me in ways I can't explain, forcing me to take a step back and reevaluate everything I believed to be true, both about myself and the world.”
Volunteers work in the garden at Emerald Village Organization in November, 2012. (Photo: Love Bus Community)
Become an Entrepreneur
Maybe you’re the type of person who desires to be your own boss, start a revolution, or change a paradigm within an industry. It could be your calling to pursue a business venture. Check out Under 30 CEO for excellent tools for young entrepreneurs, or join the Under30Experience community, to meet other ambitious entrepreneurs. These pioneers have learned to break away from their comfort zone, get creative, and meet potential business partners or launch projects.
Start an EcoVillage
Rally up a group of forward-thinking, business-minded, garden and green innovation-savvy people to start an EcoVillage. An EcoVillage is “a model for a truly sustainable community. It’s an intentional village and farm created by people who want to acquire a better quality of life by holistically integrating innovative ecological, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of sustainability,” says Ecotivity. To start an EcoVillage, look at land to purchase and split the cost with a group of people. Activated Villages is an organization created to help groups of people find and learn how to purchase land to start an EcoVillage.
Sieben Linden EcoVillage in Germany held three kinds of meetings: feeling meetings, thinking or “idea” meetings, and business meetings. (Photo: EcoVillage Newsletter)
Join or Volunteer at an EcoVillage
Join an EcoVillage and create a cottage industry that benefits you and the village. Through IC Directory and Ecotivity, you can find opportunities for exchanging, volunteering, renting, or buying in at an EcoVillage. A few examples of cottage industries are food production, holding workshops, tinctures, and art or other natural products. Like WWOOFing, you can often exchange services from a wide range of trades like gardening, land work, natural building, marketing, event planning, and IT. This is a wonderful way to create your own job and live an experiential and wholesome lifestyle.
Work overseas in a fun and collaborative way by lending your time to help out with disaster relief or social work. Burners Without Borders (BWB) began spontaneously as a collection of people who instinctively met gaping needs where traditional societal systems clearly failed after Hurricane Katrina. Now BWB is a community-led, grassroots group that encourages innovative, civic participation and creates positive local change. Nick Heyming, a three-year volunteer with BWB, explains: “I learned during my disaster relief experiences that it’s not just about how many houses you build, or how many gardens you plant. The most valuable part was the exchange with other volunteers, with the local people, and the skills and knowledge that is shared. I feel like those types of experiences are much more accessible than most recent grads are aware of, and much more valuable than they would expect."
Burners Without Borders in Pisco, Peru in 2010. (Photo: Ignite Me)
Get Paid to Roadtrip!
Applications are open now to “Hit the Road,” through Road Trip Nation’s program, that empowers you to define your own road in life instead of traveling down someone else's. Travel in a Green RV to interview inspiring leaders from all walks of life who have defined success in their own terms, and people who wake up and love what they do every day. Also, look into getting sponsored to travel, or create an influential social media presence around your travels for income. Mike’s Road Trip is a great example of a marketing professional who took road tripping to the next level.
Roadtrip Nation’s Green RV. (Photo: Steve Hargadon)
We live in exciting times. The possibilities abound as to what we can accomplish in this era. Dream big, take risks, follow your heart, and don’t let student debt burden you: everyone has it. Whichever path you take, whether it is EcoVillages or disaster relief work, starting your own business or getting sponsored to travel, the experiences you will have are priceless. Collaborating on radical projects with others, traveling, and experiential learning will help you grow and take you farther in life than you can ever imagine.
Higher Ed’s in trouble, in case you hadn’t heard.
Burdened by runaway costs, unsustainable infrastructure, outrage over tuition increases, declining public dollars, and outmoded degree programs, colleges and universities are struggling to satisfy the needs of their current patrons, let alone cater to a global student population that is expected to double by 2025.
Built right in to a university’s DNA, however, is the key to its evolution and, ultimately, its survival: the sharing of knowledge, the sharing of resources, and the sharing of power.
“Traditionally, everything from the built environment to the ethos of universities speaks to public benefit and shared wealth,” argues Neal Gorenflo, co-editor of Share or Die. “It’s all about exchanging ideas and improving on ideas, and doing that together as a community. Scholarship is a community activity.”
In other words, sharing on campus is about more than just stuff: textbooks, bikes, used furniture, and cars. From student-run food cooperatives to waste recovery networks, peer-to-peer lending services to MOOCs, a radical reengineering is underway.
I call it Shareable U. It’s part campus sustainability, part new economics, part DIY, and part open education. What brings all these movements together on campus is a desire to create more value for less money via increased collaboration between people, departments, institutions, and communities. And this is how Higher Ed will ultimately save itself. Not through higher tuition fees, not by enrolling more wealthy international students, not by building bigger rec centers and football stadiums. But by allowing a beautiful ethic embodied in its core mission to guide the reformation of the beast it has become.
SHARING: A TEXTBOOK EXAMPLE
At its most visible level, the blooming of the sharing economy has resulted in a variety of campus-based businesses that to seek to capitalize on the exchange of day-to-day goods, information and services among students. This shouldn’t come as any big surprise; after all, sharing is something of a way of life on campus where a typical student wakes up in shared housing, eats breakfast in a shared kitchen, grabs a book from a shared library, and goes to class in a shared lecture hall.
Students on many campuses can now access a shared-use bicycle by the hour, or even rent a fellow student’s car through a service called Wheelz. Campuswall is a virtual bulletin board that allows users to buy, sell, and trade within their university networks. In Australia, Zookal has warehoused thousands of used textbooks, which it then rents out at less than half the cost of buying them new. Even appliances are now shareable; La Machine du Voisin connects French students’ dirty laundry to their neighbors’ washers.
Building participation among students can be a great strategy for start-ups looking to reach a critical mass of users. Many of the conditions required for successful peer-to-peer (P2P) businesses are present here in spades.
“First and foremost, it is already an existing community,” says Jeff Miller, co-founder and CEO of Wheelz. “It is a place where trust is sort of built in. How can I, someone who has a good to share, get comfortable with and trust the person who is looking for a good to share? When you focus on a college and university environment, that trust or sense of affiliation already exists – you live down the hall, you’re part of the same group.”
Targeting college students also is also a great strategy for establishing lifelong consumer habits. Zipcar may be banking on that strategy; the company has become one of Wheelz’ most important investors, despite the fact that they compete for campus customers. The point is to get students familiar with sharing as a lifestyle, and then allow them to choose the solutions that fit their needs as they age.
A number of other key factors make campuses fertile ground for sharing initiatives: Population density, widespread tech adoption, extensive social networks, homogenous needs, and cash-strapped citizens. With the price of a college education skyrocketing, penny-pinching has become something of a competitive sport.
“Honestly, I think the biggest driver for why someone actually uses these services is the financial savings,” explains Zimride co-founder Logan Green. “When we talk to our users, that’s always number one.”
But Green also sees the rise in popularity of shareable goods and services on campus as evidence of something more complex, more meaningful, ultimately far more profound.
“There are a lot of ways you can save a dollar, right? And people don’t always get excited about that,” says Green. “What makes this something that not only people do, but something that people get excited about is the idea of being able to live a better quality of life while using fewer resources. And it’s a fun opportunity to connect with someone else and have a unique experience. So, I think it’s that kind of trifecta of social, environmental, and financial benefits that makes it so exciting. It’s not like eating broccoli.”
OLD ROOTS, NEW REACHES
The idea that organized sharing could be both self-serving to participants as well as profoundly revolutionary is hardly news to the college crowd. Arguably, a good chunk of this type of activity on campus harkens back to the Sixties, when students inspired by communitarian values explored sharing as an alternative to mainstream consumerism. Campus groups spearheaded a wide range of what we might now call peer-to-peer (P2P) projects, like swap meets, housing and food co-ops, student-run courses, community gardens, and free stores.
In the past, universities did little to expand or accelerate these types of exchanges beyond providing a few kiosks and the occasional bulletin board. Today, many student-led sharing efforts enjoy administrators’ backing right from the get go – whether that comes in the form of access, facilities, or even start-up capital.
In June of his freshman year, Alex Freid and his roommates at the University of New Hampshire went dumpster diving for a few pieces of decent, usable furniture. What they found were massive amounts of high-value waste. That summer they hatched their plans for UNH Trash 2 Treasure, a student-run program that captures and stores discarded furniture, electronics, and appliances and resells them at a giant yard sale, all with the blessing of university administrators.
“In total, we had to get permission from about 40 administrators in 15 different departments to run the program,” recalls Freid. “And that was everything from setting up locations for drop offs inside the dorms to locations where we were going to be storing things to the location where we would be holding the yard sale.”
The proliferation of university-supported reuse and redistribution programs can be attributed in part to the increasing sway of the campus sustainability movement. Free bike-sharing schemes, online carpooling platforms, and farm-to-cafeteria projects have similarly benefitted because they help their institutions meet ambitious carbon and waste reduction goals.
The Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED) trains student leaders across the U.S. to key in on local food purchasing commitments as means of securing support for student-run food co-ops. CoFED was founded in 2010 by a couple of UC Berkeley grads who launched a co-op after leading a highly public campaign to keep Panda Express off their campus.
CoFED’s Danny Spitzberg argues that one way to advance new economy projects on campus is to tap into “buzzy” concepts like sustainability, leadership, and entrepreneurship. But he stresses that it is also important to re-appropriate them in the process.
“For example, let’s start with leadership. CoFED is really emphatic about leadership as a cooperative approach where a leader is doing the best that they can do when they are creating new leaders though their work.”
In discussing his work, Spitzberg invokes many of the cooperative values unpinning the solidarity and occupy movements, which could be understood as the “deep” sharing economy. He rejects the notion that student-led projects such as his should be dismissed as idealistic or quaint. And he bristles at the characterization of campuses as utopian spaces, like eco-villages, with little relevance to the larger society.
“Throughout history, university life has been the center of cultural shift and change. And a lot of what you’ll see in the next few years will be a direct result of what students are socialized to think and feel and act on.”
OPENING THE GATES ON THE ACADEMIC COMMONS
The vision of the university as a model and living laboratory for a more shareable society is one that resonates right to the very core of the institution. Isn’t sharing ultimately what Higher Ed is all about? The open and unfettered exchange of commonly held knowledge, wisdom, and insights.
In a new twist on this age-old mission, universities are exploring ways to radically democratize access to the commons through Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs like those offered by Coursera and edX. By virtue of an Internet connection, hundreds of thousands of new students around the world are now streaming into the lecture halls of the most prestigious universities, often at no cost.
The movement for open access research is also steadily gaining ground, fueled in part by administrators’ frustration over skyrocketing subscription costs for academic journals. Harvard University caused quite a stir last year when it sent out a memo suggesting that professors go so far as to boycott traditional publications in favor of lower and no cost alternatives. Meanwhile, public activists both inside and outside Higher Ed are demanding access on behalf of the rest of us – particularly in cases when the rest of us paid for it in the first place. A recent White House directive to provide free access to publicly financed scientific research is being heralded as an important step in that direction.
“To the extent that public institutions are funded with state and federal tax money, people are coming to realize that we should share what we build with those public funds,” argues Cable Green, Director of Global Learning at Creative Commons.
Green and other proponents of Open Educational Resources (including UNESCO) want to take the concept of the shareable university to a whole new level. OERs are free and openly licensed courses, textbooks, exams, and other teaching materials that allow users to reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute at will – what Green calls the 4Rs. Think of it this way: If MOOCs and open access journals provide you with free tickets to the show, OERs actually let you take the sheet music and the instruments.
In his last job with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Green built out an entire general education curriculum (essentially all the 101 courses) as OERs. The benefits of this approach accrued on several levels: Students saved on textbook costs; faculty members were able to focus their development efforts on higher-level courses more likely to attract and retain students; and the courses themselves improved over time, thanks to a global intellectual labor force. In the first week that they were made available online, the materials were downloaded 20,000 times in 40 countries – and subsequently corrected, updated, and translated into several other languages, all at no additional cost to the public.
It could be decades before Higher Ed takes heed of these examples and begins to pursue sharing as modus operandi. The institutional inertia of universities has been known to cripple even the most promising and common sense reforms.
Will we stand back and watch that happen? Or will we break open the gates and let the people in?
This article originally appeared on OpenSource.com and is republished with permission. Author Mark Johnson is Development Manager for OSS Watch, the open source software advisory service. He contributes to the Moodle VLE though code contributions and plugins, as well as the Ubuntu community through the weekly Ubuntu Podcast.
While compiling OSS Watch's list of Open Source Options for Education, I discovered Koha, an open source Integrated Library System (ILS). I discovered, with some confusion, that there seemed to be several ILS systems called Koha. Investigation into the reason for this uncovered a story which provides valuable lessons for open source project ownership, including branding, trademarks, and conflict resolution.
Koha started its life in New Zealand (reflected in the name, which is a Māori word meaningreciprocal gift, or a gift with expectations). It was originally commissioned by the Horowhenua Library Trust (HLT), written by Katipo Communications Ltd, and released under the GPL. Crucially, Katipo held the copyright on the Koha code.
As one of the few open source options in a market dominated by proprietary systems, a community of libraries, companies, and developers grew around Koha. As its market became international, it came to the attention of Joshua Ferraro, who worked for a public library in the USA.
Ferraro left his job at the library to found LibLime, a company providing Koha development and support. LibLime was soon providing Koha to a number of libraries in the USA, and as its customer base grew, so did the company. LibLime bought Skemotah, a consulting firm with copyright over a lot of Koha's early documentation, and Katipo's Koha division.
With the purchase of these companies, LibLime became owner of a large proportion of the IP and related assets of the Koha project. Katipo also hosted the project's website, mailing list, bugzilla, and owned the koha.org domain name. Control of these now transferred to LibLime. LibLime also registered the trademark of Koha in the US.
At the time, LibLime was deeply engaged with the Koha community. Ferraro served as release manager, overseeing the flagship 3.0 release. However, soon after this LibLime's fortunes changed.
Another company who provided ILS systems in the USA, Progressive Technology Federal Systems, decided to change its portfolio to a fully open source offering. This included Koha, and another open source ILS called Evergreen. Ferraro viewed PTFS as a competitor and set to paint them as the bad guys in the community, in spite of their positive record of engagement. LibLime's influence over the community meant that many members from outside LibLime fell into rank against PTFS, creating bad blood between both parties.
Galen Charlton, a LibLime employee, was appointed as release manager for the 3.2 Koha release cycle. At the time, Koha had no fixed schedule for releases, and they were made only when the release manager deemed them to be ready.
During this release cycle, LibLime as a company drew back from the community, instead focusing its development efforts on a product called LibLime Enterprise Koha. This product was developed strictly to client specifications, behind closed doors. Despite Ferraro's arguments to the contrary, the community viewed this as a fork, and met the announcement with indignation. Several LibLime employees left the company. Galen Charlton moved to Equinox, who provided support for Evergreen. Another, Nicole Engard, was employed by LibLime as an Open Source Evangelist, and as the company's open source activity ceased, she moved to ByWater Solutions, another Koha provider.
At this point, things took a complex turn. Ferraro and the other founders of LibLime decided that it was time to move on and turn their attentions to other areas. They approached PTFS and offered to sell LibLime to them.
During this time, members of the community lost editing access to koha.org and set up koha-community.org as a community-owned home of the Koha project. After some uncertainty, the sale was agreed. PTFS now owned LibLime's collective assets, including the amassed Koha IP and the koha.org website.
Despite PTFS's record of engaging in the community, after the LibLime purchase was completed they too pulled back from the community project. As Galen Charlton now worked for Equinox, the time he could commit to the 3.2 release of Koha was limited. PTFS was unhappy with the speed of releases and forked the project internally, creating a product called LibLime Koha, with its home at koha.org.
Unfortunately, this only served to the detriment of relations with the Koha community. Koha.org was previously the home of the community Koha project, and now promoted a project which, while open source, was developed by a single company.
A further blow to the relationship was struck when it became apparent that just before the sale of LibLime, the company had filed a trademark application for the mark KOHA in New Zealand. As PTFS now owned all of LibLime's assets, the application was transferred to them. There was a fleeting chance at reconciliation as the Koha community put forward an agenda for a meeting with PTFS.
The CEO of PTFS attempted to schedule a conference call with members of the HLT Koha Subcommittee. While the committee was initially receptive to the idea, governance discussions typically took place on mailing lists and IRC channels, so they decided they would only be willing to have such discussions in one of these formats. Requests for discussions to take place in this way were unfortunately declined. PTFS recieved some flak from members of the community and responded with a press release indicating that the community wasn't serious about having discussions. The HLT Koha Subcommittee published a report from their point of view.
The application for the New Zealand trademark has been provisionally granted by IPONZ. Individuals from the community opposed the grant, which now awaits a final ruling.
We stand today with three brands using the name Koha.
- Koha is developed by a diverse international community.
- LibLime Koha is developed by PTFS to the demands of its clients.
- LibLime Academic Koha is developed by PTFS for a consortium of institutions.
Other companies on the Koha community use the name Koha, where their product is drawn from the community's codebase and may have local customisations.
I discussed the potential for community engagement in LibLime Koha with Patrick Jones, Director of Commerce-based Library Solutions and Services at PTFS. As far as they are concerned, all and sundry are welcome to take, use, and contribute to the LibLime Koha code base, which is still released under the GPL and is available on GitHub. They have recorded over a thousand downloads of the open source code on top of the deployments they manage for clients, and there are several forks by GitHub users. However, any changes made by these parties have yet to be contributed back to the LibLime codebase.
The LibLime Academic Koha project follows a different model. Parties must make a financial commitment to become part of the consortium governing the development, at which point they also get access to the product. The code is necessarily GPL, but not distributed outside the consortium. This is similar to the community source model employed by the Sakai project in its early stages.
One could argue it's not inherently bad for a project to fork, but there would be benefits if all versions of Koha drew from the same codebase. While it's certainly a healthy sign when an open source project is diversified and customised to individual requirements, this would ensure that the whole community benefited from the shared development effort. Where a party decides not to contribute their changes back for whatever reason, a shared codebase at least provides a known baseline for developers and for customers.
However, with codebases that have diverged as with Koha and LibLime Koha, there would need to be a considerable amount of effort to integrate the changes from each into a single codebase, and agreement over which codebase this should be. While PTFS and companies in the Koha community all have employees paid to work on the code, they all have to meet demands of their customers, so there would need to be a clear business case for dedicating the time to make this happen.
There would need to be compromises on both sides to heal the rift. The issue that the community has drawn most attention to in recent years is PTFS's pursual of the New Zealand trademark. This is viewed, particularly by HLT but also by other members of the international community, as an attack on the Koha project's identity. Withdrawing the application would go a long way to healing the current rift. PTFS's view is that since their acquisition of LibLime gives them copyright ownership over much of the Koha code, documentation, logos, and ownership of several Koha-releated websites, the community should acknowledge their position and right to use the Koha name.
There are some key lessons that can be learned from this story, both for open source projects and for companies engaging with existing projects.
The first is an issue of assets. Once a project is established, you may want to consider transferring ownership of assets to a non-profit foundation. There are a number of software foundations which exist for this purpose. Having your assets held in this way ensures that the buying and selling of companies doesn't lead to transfer of your project's IP.
You should work with the assumption (and indeed the intention) that commercial organisations will be interested in providing services around your product. Attracting companies to your product is a key path to sustainability, as it provides financial support for ongoing development.
It's perfectly sensible that these companies will want to do things like registering trademarks that pertain to their brand offering. To avoid confusion, it's wise to ensure the brand you wish to promote the project under is protected as widely as possible (e,g. by registering a trademark), and ensure there are clear guidelines governing its usage.
For a company to support your project, it will need to be able to provide a guaranteed service to customers. A predictable release cycle will help make this possible, as it allows a company to plan its services around a known schedule of releases.
If you do engage with an existing project, it always pays to approach the situation humbly. An established project will have a governance structure which the community have trust in. Work within the established structures, and once you've contributed to the project, you may be in a position to gain influence and use it to further your interests.
Ongoing conflict isn't good for any parties concerned. Never turn down an opportunity to discuss an issue and seek a resolution. If two parties can't agree on terms by themselves, it may help to seek mediation from a third party who can broker a compromise.
When emotions around an issue run high, it can be hard to stand back and take an objective view of a situation. Where there are past disagreements, personal apologies for comments published in anger may be a good place to start.
OSS Watch maintains a series of briefings and articles about project governance, sustainability and community engagement. If would like information and training on applying these to your project, please get in touch.
I'd like to thank Patrick Jones and Nicole Engard for taking the time to tell me the story of Koha. If you'd like to find out more, there is a reading list of news articles and blog posts about the project.
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In the lead up to Global Sharing Day, The People Who Share released the “State of the Sharing Economy” research in order to highlight the immense possibilities through living shareably. Some of the highlights from the study:
- 33 million Brits (65% of British adults) currently sharing, another 14 million willing to consider it.
- 15 million tons of food that could and should be shared, annually.
- £4.6 billion in savings accrued by the UK Sharing Economy legions.
- £330 billion value for the Sharing Economy, £22.4 billion in the UK alone.
- 10 million meals shared by Global Sharing Day partner, FareShare.
- 170% increase in food box recipients, as reported by the Trussell Trust.
- Typical Zipcar UK users save around £3000 annually
- 36% of Britons share transport, i.e. liftsharing or carsharing schemes. This is an increase from 25% last year.
This information was compiled by Opinium and made available by Marke2ing, both of London.
With Global Sharing Day arriving in just a few weeks, it is important to spread the word about the possibilities within the Sharing Economy. This study sought to articulate the vastness and depth of the Sharing Economy, while also showing how money can be spared by sharing.
Global Sharing Day 2013 will focus on foodsharing. Nearly 4 million Britons live in dire food poverty, with over 15 million tons of food going to waste each year. Organizations like FareShare, Mealsharing and Casserole Club seek to rectify this alimentary inequality in new and innovative ways.
Global Sharing Day 2013 seeks to honor these organizations and to provide them a platform for international press, while also extolling the benefits of the Sharing Economy and the aspirations already realized by its proponents.
Global Sharing Day, June 2nd, 2013, will be here soon. In the few weeks prior, learn what you can share with members of your community to make them, the Sharing Economy, and the world, a better place to live and a better place to share!
Kicking off Mesh2013 at a niftty Airbnb rental in San Francisco. Credit: Kevin Krejci.
Imagine an event where every conversation is interesting, where everyone you meet wants to help you. That was Mesh2013. And because of this quality, it was a rare success as a social experience.
A two-day event held at the end of April, Mesh2013 did for the attendees what “mesh” used as a verb implies: It, to borrow a word from Marina Gorbis’ new book, The Nature of the Future, “socialstructed” a new community focused on accelerating the sharing economy.
While there were incredible speakers -- including Seth Godin, Paul Hawken, Steven Berlin Johnson, Dale Dougherty, and Robin Chase -- it was the many interactions with other attendees and the artfully crafted social experiences that made Mesh2013 so useful, memorable, and bonding for me.
If the medium is the message, then this says a lot about the messenger, Lisa Gansky and her MeshLabs, who hosted the event. The gestalt of the event effused love, care, humor, and fun. This is a welcome difference from many events which can feel steely and impersonal, and leave you feeling depleted. I left uplifted. And a little overwhelmed with all the good!
Steven Johnson and Robin Chase share laughs at Mesh2013. Credit: Lisa Gansky.
Below are the themes that spoke to me at Mesh2013, and some reflections on how Lisa Gansky pulled off a tour de force of socialstructing:
· What’s in a name? Everything, at least if you were at Mesh. All attendees agreed that there’s an important shift happening and that sharing and peer production are at the heart of it. As Nick Grossman wrote about Mesh2013, this change is “powered by us.” What attendees didn’t agree on is what to call this shift. (Sharing, peer, access, or collaborative economy? Take your pick.) People tended to use the sharing economy in discussion, but more as a placeholder. There were widespread doubts that "sharing economy" would play well in Kansas or Congress. People saw the lexical challenge as a practical barrier to such activities as advocacy and public awareness. This came up again and again in the plenary sessions, as well as the breakouts I was in. No solution emerged, but there was a consensus about the challenge.
· Resilience thinking. As much as sharing saves resources, this trend wasn’t couched in terms of sustainability. It seems we’ve moved on. But to what? Resilience, defined as the ability to bounce back from crisis. This says a lot about the times we live in. First, the shift from sustainability to resilience thinking is smart because it’s pointless to strive for stasis as the word “sustain” can imply. All systems go through cycles of growth, decline, and reorganization. We need to design our lives, organizations, cities, and societies with this with this complex adaptive cycle in mind. The focus on resilience at Mesh2013 and elsewhere tells me that systems thinking is penetrating more deeply into our consciousness.
Second, it says that we’ve truly grokked that we live in a time of profound crisis, and we’re actually identifying with it. The panel on resilience, and especially the presentation by Airbnb’s Molly Turner, showed how the sharing economy can increase the resilience of cities. She explained how Airbnb, their members, and New York City worked together to provide free housing for thousands of people left homeless by Hurricane Sandy. In this case, Airbnb leveraged the spare housing capacity at their fingertips to help people in need. It’s a fascinating model of resilience that could be duplicated in other areas of the sharing economy like ride- and car-sharing.
· Scale and acceleration. The whole purpose of Mesh was to build a community to scale and accelerate the sharing economy. So, as you’d expect, keynotes focused on this. Steven Johnson talked about themes from his new book, Future Perfect. What stuck with me was what he’s researching now – how "translational medicine" accelerates the diffusion of medical innovations into society. He related that attendees where translational economists working to smuggle the sharing economy into the mainstream. Robin Chase gave a convincing, data-packed presentation that showed the deep trouble we’re in with global warming (even the conservative World Bank is worried) and how open sourcing the solution is the only way to meet the challenge. She quoted Banny Banerjee of Stanford’s d. school: “You can’t solve exponential problems with linear solutions.” She urged people to design solutions that leverage excess capacity, foster participation, and result in cooperative gain.
And how did Mesh pull off such a good job at socialstructing? The first step was the intention to create a community rather than merely host an event. Mesh curated an accomplished group of people for this. They also did some thoughtful matchmaking. They brought together all the types of capital needed for innovation -- human, social, and financial. The people I met had substantial resources ready to be combined in useful ways with what others brought.
And Mesh kept it small, about 200 people, which is in line with the Dunbar number – the theoretical limit of a well-functioning face-to-face community. In addition, the organizers encouraged attendees to come as you are -- as people, not as roles. These basic ingredients set the stage for authentic connection.
Mesh built on this by creating many opportunities to socialize. The opening mixer was at an architect’s home on Portrero Hill in San Francisco rented from Airbnb. The informality of a house party, shareable-style, was a fitting way to start. After day one, there was a fabulous group dinner in a warehouse art gallery inspired by the Big Lunch with plenty of space and time to mingle.
The heart of each day was the breakout groups, also potent connectors. Everyone was pre-assigned to a session on a broad theme like power, which was my group. Skilled “docents” lead groups through two days of discussion on assigned themes. In my case, the theme presented the group a lot of ambiguity, which resulted in a more interesting discussion and better personal connections as people explored their positions together. In fact, I’d say that the personal connections trumped the impressive intellectual output, a surprising outcome for a conference breakout group.
My favorite socialstructing moment was when we each sewed a panel for a kimono in an example of flow state learning. There I was with Lisa Gansky, Robin Chase, and Mark Dwight (CEO of Rickshaw Bagworks) sewing a kimono together, bloodying my finger tips, and admiring the creativity of my peers. It was strange, refreshing, and memorable. And there’s nothing like making something together to bond people, whether it’s a kimono or a movement.
Check out the day one and two videos of Mesh2013:
Imagine a gathering where people with different backgrounds listen to each other's specific challenges, then crowdsource a range of possible solutions. Now imagine this pool of knowledge being comprised of cities, bringing together key representatives to share information across boundaries, and you'd find yourself at the Living Labs Global Awards (LLGA) Cities Pilot the Future Summit.
This week, representatives from 22 cities gathered at Fort Mason in San Francisco to engage in a dialogue about the problems cities are facing and to come up with creative solutions to these problems. What sets the LLGA Cities Summit apart from the usual urban conferences is that the exchanges are all devoted to bringing about tangible, real world results through hands-on collaborations.
Inspired by last year's Rio+20 conference and the desire to turn that momentum into action, cities from London to Lavasa and from Sant Cugat to San Francisco committed to openly sharing their problems, which were presented through the Citymart platform to urban innovators from around the world who drew up 546 solutions over the last nine months. During Tuesday's Cities Dialogue session, the exchanges culminated in the announcement of the final match-ups that will be piloted immediately.
Here are three of them:
- Eindhoven in The Netherlands sought solutions to better share public facilities, link citizens with current activities, and help people share new initiatives. It found its solution in Connecthings' contactless tags bridging the real and virtual worlds that will be installed on street furniture and public spaces where people can find out anything from bus schedules to upcoming events in their neighborhood.
- The City of Maringá, confronted with the problem of rising car ownership among its residents due to a booming economy in Brazil, is looking for a new system of transportation that could replace the automobile, and in the words of former mayor Silvio Magalhaes Barros II, "make the city as comfortable as it was before people got so rich." Clever Devices’ Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), a comprehensive information streamlining system making existing mass transit more reliable, comfortable, and safe for people, is just what the city needed.
- Barcelona is looking for ways to revitalize vacant neighborhood spaces, with a particular focus on social inclusion and community involvement. UK charity 3Space's innovative, community driven empty shops projects, giving communities temporary use of empty properties until the landlord needs them for commercial purposes, is the perfect partner to bring theaters, art galleries, rehearsal spaces, and other creative projects to these neighborhoods, empowering local residents as well as helping property owners with building upkeep.
While leveraging new technologies plays an important role in connecting people and finding creative ways to use space and resources, Barcelona's Deputy Mayor Sonja Recasens pointed out the importance of community involvement and direct people-to-people interaction. The key question, as moderator Dr. Anthony Townsend of the Institute for the Future noted, is how to tap citizens to be service providers for each other.
Lavasa's (India) City Manager Scot Wrighton struck a similar note, saying that their challenge of integrating indigenous, low-income people into the social and economic fabric of the city called for more of an organizational than technological solution. He found LabourNet's experience with setting up training centers where local youth can develop business skills to be the perfect match for their need.
Citymart also connects cities directly with each other. By sharing their creative thinking and technologies, cities not only broaden the user base for their innovative ideas and speed up development, but they benefit from making new connections and forming lasting relationships with their fellow stakeholders.
Last year, for example, Cape Town selected the City of York's GeniUs community innovation platform, a mechanism to have conversations and co-develop solutions with businesses, academics and the community, and has since begun to develop its own pilot. Similarly, the City of Stockholm has been able to improve E-adept, an enabling solution to increase pedestrian accessibility for people with mobility challenges, by allowing other cities to "test-drive" it. Each addition to the collective knowledge base not only helps existing users refine their own application of these platforms, but makes it easier and cheaper for new adopters to launch and operate.
Back in San Francisco, the urban explorers from around the world gathered for a matchmaking summit on day two before going on field trips to marvel at some of San Francisco's most innovative urban solutions on the last day. The innovation workshop tour took visitors to local incubators like TUMML, wework, The Hub, and TechShop. The renewable energy tour included a potential wind power site on Twin Peaks and California’s largest urban solar installation at the Sunset Reservoir.
A third tour led through San Francisco's vast world of people-centered micro projects on public and vacant land. From the roaming food truck extravaganza of Off the Grid and on-street parking spaces converted into parklets to citizen-driven projects like Proxy, a shipping container environment turned retail space, and Hayes Valley Farm, a city-funded and volunteer driven 2.2 acre urban farm on a former freeway ramp, there were plenty of creative solutions to glean.
The lesson we can all take away from this ambitious experiment is that each individual and community holds a part of the solution. All too often these kernels aren't visible until they are thrown into a larger pot where they can find the matching pieces. It's through that exchange that an idea can grow into something larger and travel to where it's most needed. And when a good idea finally reaches its destinations, everybody wins.
As Detroit recovers from staggering unemployment due to the mass exodus of the auto industry, small business creation is now being touted by many locals as a better solution for resiliency, higher wages and employment stability than big business recruitment. But starting a new business from a dream with little business experience can be daunting, especially without the capital to carry you through early mistakes.
In the life of a new, start-up business owner, there are many hurdles, big and small. For a food entrepreneur who is trying to look beyond "profit, profit, profit" models of the past, hurdles can seem like mountains, especially if you're going at it on your own. From licensing and distribution channels to fair labor standards and nutritional quality, there are a myriad of challenging, technical issues to address.
In Detroit, food entrepreneurs have come together via an organization called FoodLab Detroit to share resources, experiences, and ideas in hopes of making new models of business more sustainable and just. Together we are working to create a diverse ecosystem of triple-bottom-line food businesses as part of a good food movement that is accountable to all Detroiters. Fair wages and democratic workplaces are on the agenda of many of the businesses as a part of the solution. Members participate by going through a start-up training program and supporting each other as they learn and grow.
For the past three months, FoodLab Detroit has run our second annual “Building Your Good Food Business” Bootcamp. Participants co-learned around five main topics- visioning, community ecosystems, triple bottom line accounting, sustainability tools, and relationship building. Throughout the sessions, over 25 expert community members contributed their skills and knowledge to the conversation, resulting in new ideas and collaborations. Many of the graduates appreciate the peer support network resulting from going through the program together, which helps nurture their businesses post-graduation and creates a feeling of solidarity.
On April 2nd, community leaders, established business owners, friends, family, and allies gathered for a celebration of our trainees featuring (of course) delicious food. Each of the 18 Foodlab graduates created a visual display of their business, incorporating their business vision and triple bottom line principles. Nearly 100 guests wandered through the space, asking questions and tasting samples of the businesses’ products.
The open-house celebration was a celebration of the greater FoodLab community that extends beyond just businesses. People who chatted with business owners got a better sense of how they are working to create social change through responsible and creative business practices. It allowed FoodLab graduates, many of whom do not have ready access to traditional means of capital, to make connections with potential supporters. One graduate who is hoping to open a small sliders restaurant said she “felt like a legit business” after getting encouragement from the community at the event.
Our April 2nd celebration also served as a recruitment/networking event for our "Kitchen Connect" project, developed in partnership with Detroit’s Eastern Market Corporation. For many of our businesses, the next step in development is becoming licensed in a commercial kitchen space. Kitchen Connect will be the management hub for a network of existing, licensed kitchen spaces in organizations across the city. We hope that sharing these spaces and making them more financially and physically accessible will help early stage businesses to succeed us and help us move toward greater equality in the food entrepreneurial community.
Although Greenpoint, Brooklyn, isn't known as a hotbed for sustainable agriculture, that's not stopping Gotham Greens from making a name for themselves. Using renewable energy sources to power their sterile greenhouses, Gotham Greens set up shop on the Greenpoint Wood Exchange rooftop a few years back with the goal of providing fresh, high-quality produce and herbs to local markets and restaurants.
Founders Viraj Puri and Eric Haley teamed with greenhouse expert Jenn Nelkin to develop the facility and protocols needed to grow year-round in New York City. Utilizing a combination of recirculating hydroponics and climate control systems, Gotham Greens has been harvesting bounties of lettuce, basil, chard, tomatoes, bok choy, and myriad other delights since 2011 -- and in quantities 20-30 times greater per acre than their field-based counterparts while using 20 times less water and producing no agricultural run-off.
Gotham Greens isn't the only savvy greenhouse farm on the proverbial block -- Will Allen's Milwaukee-based Growing Power also does amazing work. Still, Whole Foods Market was impressed enough with Gotham Greens to partner with the rooftop farmers on their new site in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The 20,000 square foot retail store and rooftop greenhouse is slated to open this Fall providing shoppers with access to truly local, sustainably grown produce. The partnership slashes the food miles and associate carbon footprint that normally comes with shipping food long distances from growers in California and Mexico. As Puri noted, "This project takes the discussion from food miles to food footsteps."
Christina Minardi, WFM Northeast Regional President, added, “We’re particularly excited to partner with a local organization with roots right here in Brooklyn and a mission in line with our own, in that we both care deeply about providing local, fresh and sustainably produced food.”
Gotham Greens from Dark Rye on Vimeo. Gotham Greens is the first commercial-scale rooftop hydroponic greenhouse in the world. By going vertical in the city, Gotham Greens is using less water, eliminating pesticides, putting an end to fertilizer runoff, and leading the way to a sustainable agriculture future in the sky.
Participatory budgeting has come a long way from Porto Alegre, Brazil, circa 1989. Today, more than 1,500 cities around the world have implemented the PB process, including San Francisco, California; Chicago, Illinois; Toronto, Ontario; Vallejo, California; and New York City, New York.
In a nutshell, PB allows citizens to suggest, formulate, vote on, and implement projects within their own communities. It's a way to educate and engage people at a grassroots, truly democratic level. So far, more than 60 PB projects -- things like bike lanes, community gardens, street lights, and playgrounds -- have received over $10 million in funding.
Though Shareable has covered a lot of PB ground, one of the main hubs for the model in North America is the Participatory Budgeting Project. Meerkat Media, the producers of PBP's new video, has submitted the piece to the MacArthur Foundation's Looking@Democracy contest. You can vote to help the PB movement win some of the $100,000 in prizes. The intro video was a priority result of the PBP's own internal participatory budgeting process.
I was first drawn into the rental economy as a broke and car-less college student. Through my University, I received a free code for a year-long membership of Zipcar’s carsharing service. Now, six years later I am still using Zipcar but I have branched out to other car rental services like RelayRides for additional vehicle choices. I am also using Airbnb to find lodging, Netflix to watch movies, and Spinlister to find bicycles. In college, I simply couldn’t afford to buy a car, stay in a hotel, or own 100 DVDs so the rental option was an economic necessity. Now as a yuppie in Boston, I’m certainly less thrifty but with thousands of dollars in student debt I’ve really bought into the idea of “access over ownership”. This is where the Rental Economy 2.0 comes in.
The Rental Economy 2.0
This new era in the rental industry is defined by the use of social networks and mobile technology to decentralize and ultimately improve access to common consumer goods. This matching of our real-time, online world with our tangible goods in real life is making it easier than ever to rent.
So far in my year of the Sharing Economy, I have spent a lot of time trying to understand what services exist and which ones could apply to my own life. After doing some initial research, I quickly became overwhelmed with just the number of carsharing companies that existed (73 that I found globally). This was going to be a long process so I enlisted the help of a TaskRabbit named Maria. She helped me to identify over 320 companies in the “sharing-space” and categorize them into different industry segments. Collectively, we found 138 companies that were specific to Rental Economy 2.0. Carsharing was easily the largest segment (53%) while the rest (47%) was extremely varied, ranging from books, to housing, to fashion, to media and more.
Renting Broad and Shallow or Narrow and Deep
The most immediate trend I noticed was that there were two types of companies, those that rented everything and those that focused on renting specific niche items. I found that I prefer the narrow and deep companies because you’ll have a better chance of finding what you need. I don’t often shop for dresses, but I know that Girl Meets Dress is a company that rents out designer dresses. With over 4,000 dresses, they are a leading online luxury dress rental company. So if I needed to rent a dress, I’d go there, no problem. Their offering is clear and focused.
Additionally, if I needed construction equipment, I’d go to Getable, a company that was started by a Tufts Graduate (Go Jumbos!) and focuses specifically on the needs of residential and commercial construction. Due to their focus, it is very easy to gain access to the specific item that you need.
Alternatively, there are websites that allow you to rent anything and everything. I found these sites to be very difficult to use. I found a generator on one site, but it was in Anchorage, Alaska (I live in Boston). On another site, I found three power drills but they were hours away in western Massachusetts. In both cases, these sites were too diverse to really offer me any benefit. One “rent-everything” site that I might consider using in the future is Share Some Sugar. They allow you to rent anything, but they focus on the peer connections that are necessary to share locally. The site is also very easy to navigate.
Another service I would consider is Frents. They rent everything from cars to Blu Ray players to baby toys. After browsing their website, I was pleased with how clean and well-designed it was but I’m still skeptical that its variety is really a benefit to me. From what I’ve seen, I doubt they’ll have what I want, where and when I want it which is a hallmark of other sharing services like Zipcar.
Peer-to-Peer versus Business-to-Consumer
There is another important distinction between the companies in the Rental Economy 2.0 and it’s the difference between peer-to-peer marketplaces and business-to-consumer marketplaces. Both business models fulfill the “access over ownership” mantra of the sharing economy but many would argue that removing peer interactions makes the service purely a “Transactional Economy” instead of a “Sharing Economy”.
In the housing rental market, two good examples are HomeExchange and Rent Mine Online. Home Exchange is a peer-to-peer marketplace where homeowners can swap housing during vacations. There is a substantial vetting process between homeowners because you don’t want just anyone to stay in your home for weeks or months on end while you’re not there. Rent Mine Online on the other hand (now called LeaseStar) helps apartment management companies increase referrals through the power of social media. They are certainly a business-to-consumer service, but they have the aesthetic and feel of many Sharing Economy companies.
Many other examples exist like the popular Netflix and the less popular SwapaDVD for movie rentals. For me, the decision ultimately comes down to what services improve my “access over ownership”. I prefer the peer-to-peer networks, but there is a certain convenience threshold where I’ll start using a business-to-consumer service without a second thought.
Opportunities in the Rental Economy 2.0
As an always-enterprising guy, I find myself constantly looking for opportunity. In terms of the Rental Economy 2.0, I see a huge opportunity for men’s fashion, think of a Netflix for ties, watches, or even dress shirts. There are more than a dozen sites for women’s fashion, many with revenue in the millions. I haven’t yet seen anything for men yet.
Personally, I’m not terribly interested in the fashion industry. However, what I am very interested in is the outdoor recreation industry. 50% of my (minimal) possessions are related to outdoor activities. It’s what I think about and do with most of my free time. I only found one company in this space and it’s called Spinlister, a company that allows you to rent bicycles from your peers. You could definitely rent bikes from a traditional bike shop, but this old-school method dictates the where, when, and whom you can rent from. It’s also more expensive. For example, I had a friend spend several hundred dollars to disassemble, package, and haul her bike through several airports to New Zealand for a race. Once she arrived, she had to pay someone to have it reassembled. Then wash, rinse and repeat to get it back to Boston. Imagine if she could have just left the bike at home and rented an equivalent bike from a fellow triathlete in New Zealand. This would have saved her hours of hassle, hundreds of dollars, and led to a completely new experience for her.
This got me to thinking. I have an incredible group of outdoorsy friends in the Boston area and we are constantly lending and borrowing outdoor gear from each other. Outdoor recreation activities like camping, kayaking, or biking require large up-front investments of highly specialized equipment. This is a barrier for many people who would like to adventure outside. As an example, I love winter camping but many of my friends lack the requisite gear like a $500 -20F sleeping bag and a $700 winter tent. Some of these items are available for rent at traditional outdoor retailers like REI and EMS but again their offerings are centralized, i.e. you have to go to one of their stores during their open hours in order to rent from them.
As an avid outdoorsman with a passion for new ideas, I have become really excited about what the world of outdoor gear sharing could look like. So, in order to better understand how people use outdoor gear, I’ve developed a two-minute survey. Please take the survey and if I get over 100 responses I'll share the results in a future post. So please share it on Facebook and Twitter when you're done. Thanks in advance for your input!
Author Christa Müller is a sociologist and author. For many years she has been committed to research on rural and urban subsistence. She is executive partner of the joint foundation “anstiftung & ertomis” in Munich. Her most recent book (in German) is Urban Gardening: About the Return of Gardens into the City.
“In these times of ever more blatant marketing of public space, the aspiration to plant potatoes precisely there – and without restricting entry – is nothing less than revolutionary,” writes Sabine Rohlf in her book review of Urban Gardening.1 Indeed, we can observe the return of gardens to the city everywhere and see it as an expression of a changing relationship between the public and the private. And it is not only this dominant differentiation in modern society that is increasingly becoming blurred; the differences between nature and society as well as that between city and countryside are fading as well, at least from the perspective of urban community gardeners.
In the 1960s, as the economy boomed, people in West Germany had given up their urban vegetable gardens, not least for reasons of social status; many wished to demonstrate, for example, that they could purchase food and no longer had to grow and preserve it themselves. Today, in contrast, the “Generation Garden” has planted its feet firmly in vegetable patches in the midst of hip urban neighborhoods, the “young farmers of Berlin-Kreuzberg” are creating a furor, the German Federal Cultural Foundation stages the festival “Über Lebenskunst” (a pun meaning both “On the art of living” and – spelled Überlebenskunst – “The art of survival”) and people need not be ashamed of showing their fingernails, black from gardening, in public.
What we observe here is a shift in the symbolism and status of post-materialistic values and lifestyles. Do-it-yourself and grow-it-yourself also means finding one’s own expression in the products of one’s labor. It means setting oneself apart from a life of consuming objects of industrial production. Seeking individual expression is also a quest for new forms and places of community. If the heated general stores and craftsmen’s workshops were the places where Germany’s social life unfolded in the postwar years, today’s urban community gardens and open workshops seem to be developing into hothouses of social solidarity for a post-fossil-fuel urban society.
Princess Garden in Berlin. Photo credit: Max A. Used under Creative Commons license.
In recent years, people of the most varied milieus have been joining forces and planting organic gardens in major European cities. They keep bees, reproduce seeds, make natural cosmetics, use plants to dye fabrics, organize open-air meals, and take over and manage public parks. With hands-on neighborhood support, urban gardening activists are planting flowers as they like at the bases of trees and transforming derelict land and garbage-strewn parking decks into places where people can meet and engage in common activities.
The new gardening movement is young, colorful and socially heterogeneous. In Berlin, “indigenous” city dwellers work side-by-side with long-time Turkish residents to grow vegetables in neighborhood gardens and community gardens; pick-your-own gardens and farmers’ gardens are forming networks with one another. The intercultural gardening movement is continuing to expand in striking ways, as seen on the online platform Mundraub.org, which uses Web 2.0 technology to tag the locations of fruit trees whose apples and other fruits can be picked for free (Müller 2011). Such novel blending of digital and analog worlds is creating new intermediate worlds that combine open source practices with subsistence-oriented practices of everyday life.2
URBAN GARDENS AS KNOWLEDGE COMMONS
Open source is the central guiding principle in all community gardens; the participation and involvement of the neighborhood are essential principles. The gardens are used and managed as commons even if the gardeners do not personally own the land. By encouraging people to participate, urban gardens gather and combine a large amount of knowledge in productive ways. Since there are usually no agricultural professionals among the gardeners, everyone depends on whatever knowledge is available – and everyone is open to learning. They follow the maxim that everybody benefits from sharing knowledge; after all, they can learn from each other, relearn skills they had lost and contribute to bringing about something new. Communal gardening confronts the limited means of urban farmers – whether in soil, materials, tools or access to knowledge – and transforms them into an economic system of plenty through collective ingenuity, giving and reciprocity.3
In urban gardens, both opportunities and the necessity for exchange arise time and again. A vibrant atmosphere emerges where the most varied talents meet. In workshops, for example, people can learn to build their own freight bicycles, window farming4 or greening roofs; they can learn to grow plants on balconies and the walls of buildings, and use plastic water bottles for constant watering of topsoil. There is always a need for ingenuity and productivity, which often come about only when knowledge is passed along, which in turn releases additional knowledge.
Thus, the creative process in a garden never reaches an end. The garden itself is a workshop where things are reinterpreted creatively and placed in new relationships. One thing leads to another. It is not only the inspiring presence of the various plants that provides for a wealth of ideas, but also the ongoing opportunity to engage oneself and be motivated by the objects lying around (Müller 2011).
Urban Harvest Tour in Houston. Photo credit: J. Bolles. Used under Creative Commons license.
This is how a real community that uses a garden emerges over time. One of the most important ingredients for success is that the place is not predefined or overly restricted by rules. Instead, the atmosphere of untidiness and openness makes it apparent that cooperation and creative ideas are desired and necessary.
A NEW POLICY FOR (PUBLIC) SPACE
When the neighborhood people of Berlin-Neukölln tend their gardens on the site of the former Berlin-Tempelhof airport in plant containers they crafted themselves, bringing together people of many different backgrounds and generations and supported by the Allmende-Kontor, a common gardening organization, this is first of all an unusual use of public space.5 The garden consists of raised beds in the most varied styles on 5,000 square meters. Plants grow in discarded bed frames, baby buggies, old zinc tubs and wooden containers assembled by the gardeners themselves.
But more than an unusual public space, the Allmende-Kontor gardens underscore an important political dimension of urban gardening. The commons-oriented practices enable a different perspective on the city. They both require communities and at the same time createcommunities. People come together here, but not under the banner of major events, advertising or the obligation to consume. Instead, their self-organized, decentralized practices in the public realm implicitly express a shared aspiration of a green city for all. Yet no grand new societal utopia – “the society of the future” – is being promoted. Instead, simple social interactions slowly transform a concrete space in the here and now, building an alternative to the dominant order based on market fundamentalism (Werner 2011).
In other words, the policy preference for the small-scale as a rediscovery of one’s immediate environment is by no means based on a narrowed perspective. On the contrary: the focus is precisely on the overuse, colonization and destruction of the global commons, and for this reason, the local commons is managed as a place where one can raise awareness about a new concept of publicness6 while simultaneously demonstrating that there are indeed alternatives – common usage in place of private property; local quality of life instead of remote-controlled consumption, as it were; and cooperation rather than individual isolation.
MANAGING THE “INTERNAL COMMONS”
The new focus on the commons in urban community gardens is not only a political defense of public space for its use toward the common good. At the same time, it is also a reclaiming of people’s internal consciousness and a rejection of the ascriptions of homo economicus, an image of humanity that reduces us to competition-oriented individuals whose attention is focused solely on their own advantage.7 This overly simplistic model has been under constructive attack for some time, even in the field of economics. In particular, the social neurosciences have confirmed that people’s willingness to cooperate and need for connectedness are central elements of human nature. For scholars of the humanities, this is surely no new insight, yet it is still good to know that there is substantial scientific evidence showing that the existence of a boundary between mind and body, which is often used to justify hegemonic domination, is artificial, and that the interrelationships between body and mind are highly complex. For example, we know today that social or psychological experiences leave physical traces – even in our genes, as shown by epigenetics. Joachim Bauer considers this insight to be the decisive breakthrough regarding our concepts of humankind (Bauer 2008).
This has two consequences for the subject at hand: for one thing, a practice of the commons such as community gardening enables the gardeners to discover their bodies, the experience of having two hands and being able to create things with them. Such sensory experiences are directly connected to one’s grasp of the world. For another, the garden is the ideal place to learn how to cooperate. When designing a system to capture rainwater for the beds, for example, the experience reveals an aspect of being human – namely connectedness – that is just as important as the experience of autonomy (Hüther 2011).
Canal-side garden in Milan. Photo credit: Roberto Venturini. Used under Creative Commons license.
In this sense, commons are a practice of life that enable even the highly individualized subjects of the 21st century to turn their attention to one another, and not least to slow down their lives. After all, time, too, is a resource to be conceptualized in the community. Experiencing time means being able to pursue an activity as one sees fit, enjoying a moment or spending it with others. By accelerating time to an extreme degree, digital capitalism has subjected virtually everyone to a regime of efficiency, with the result that people’s sense of time is determined by scarcity and by the stress people subjectively feel to “fill” time with as much utility as possible. Time is “saved,” leisure hours are regarded with suspicion, and the boundaries between work and free time are increasingly blurred.
The garden is an antidote that can be used as a refuge by the “exhausted self,” as described by French Sociologist Alain Ehrenberg. The garden slows things down and enables experiences with temporal cycles from a different epoch of human history, agrarian society. Small-scale agriculture, which is being rediscovered in many urban gardens, is cyclical in nature. Every year, the cycle begins anew with the preparation of the soil and with sowing. People who farm are exposed to nature, the climatic conditions, the seasons and the cycles of day and night. For city dwellers whose virtual lives have taught them that everything is always possible at the same time, and above all, that everything can be managed at any time, these dimensions of time are highly fascinating. Gardening enables the insight that we are integrated in life cycles ourselves and that it can have a calming effect to simply “give oneself up” to the situation at hand.
In other words, managing the commons creates not only valuable experiences, but also social relationships with far-reaching effects. And, one might add, they are valuable for achieving the transformation of an industrial society based on oil and resource exploitation into a society guided by premises of democratic participation that no longer “lives” on externalizing costs but, to the extent possible, avoids creating them in the first place. Processes of reciprocity and an “economy of symbolic goods,” asBourdieu puts it, are just as important for highly differentiated modern societies as for premodern ones (Adloff and Mau 2005). Old and new practices of the commons offer inspiring options for action.
URBAN AGRICULTURE: THE NEW TRENDS
Agropolis is the title of the planning concept of a group of Munich architects who won the Open Scale competition with a “metropolitan food strategy” in 2009.8 The concept for an “urban neighborhood of harvesting” places growing one’s own food, the valuation of regional resources and sustainable management of land at the center of urban planning. Harvests are to become a visible part of everyday urban life. If the city implements the model, fruit from the commons and community institutions that exchange, store and process the harvest could create the basis for a productive collaboration on the part of the 20,000 inhabitants of the new neighborhood.
The Citizens’ Garden Laskerwiese is a public park managed by the citizens themselves.9 A group of 35 local residents transformed the previously garbage-strewn, derelict land in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, in Berlin, into a park. They concluded a contract with the district authorities, agreeing that the citizens’ association is responsible for services such as tending the trees and the lawns on the site. In return, it can use parcels of land and beds for growing vegetables free of charge. Such new models that help cash-strapped municipalities shoulder their financial burden and expand the opportunities for people to shape public spaces require a lot of time and effort for communication on both sides.
The Allmende-Kontor (roughly: Commons Office) is an initiative of the Berlin urban gardening movement that has been tending community gardens on the site of the former airport Berlin-Tempelhof together with local residents since 2011.10 Raised beds of the most varied styles are being created on 5,000 square meters. The Allmende-Kontor considers itself as a garden for all – and at the same time as a place for storing knowledge, for learning and for consulting and networking Berlin community gardens. The establishment of a pool of gardening tools and a seed bank available for unrestricted use are being planned as well.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of the Commons and is republished with permission.
- Adloff, Frank and Steffen Mau, Eds. 2005. Vom Geben und Nehmen. Zur Soziologie der Reziprozität. Frankfurt/New York. Campus.
- Bauer, Joachim. 2008. Das Gedächtnis des Körpers. Wie Beziehungen und Lebensstile unsere Gene steuern. München. Piper.
- Hüther, Gerald. 2011. Was wir sind und was wir sein könnten. Ein neurobiologischer Mutmacher. Frankfurt. Fischer.
- Müller, Christa, editor. 2011. Urban Gardening. Über die Rückkehr der Gärten in die Stadt. München. oekom.
- Werner, Karin. 2011. “Eigensinnige Beheimatungen. Gemeinschaftsgärten als Orte des Widerstandes gegen die neoliberale Ordnung.” In: Müller, Christa, ed. a.a.O.: 54-75.
- 1.Berliner Zeitung, April 5, 2011.
- 2.Mundraub is described in Katharina Frosch’s essay in Part 3.
- 3.For more, read the conversation between Brian Davey, Wolfgang Hoeschele, Roberto Verzola and Silke Helfrich in Part 1.
- 4.Window farming is vertical gardening on a windowsill. Plants are grown in hanging plastic bottles, which also provide greenery for the windows.
- 6.See also Brigitte Kratzwald’s essay on social welfare in light of the commons in Part 1.
- 7.For more detail on this topic, see Friederike Habermann’s essay in Part 1.
Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is booming right now. It may not be the first thing that comes to mind -- after kilts, haggis, and the Loch Ness monster -- but the country is going through somewhat of a startup renaissance. With financial incentives from the government and enablement from world-leading organisations, Scotland really is an excellent place to grow a business.
And where do all of these budding entrepreneurs and micro businesses go to work? Coworking spaces! Boosted by government and influenced by startup accelerators, coworking in Scotland is taking shape in the major cities. According to recent research by Desk Union, there are currently 50 coworking workspaces in Scotland, including government-funded startup hubs and entrepreneurial incubators.
societyM in Glasgow. Photo credit: Desk Union. Used with permission.
Private coworking hubs such as societyM can be found on the ground floor of Glasgow’s citizenM hotel. It’s described as a ‘Business Club,’ but operates much more like an exclusive coworking space. It’s a refreshing approach to workspace for nomadic workers who often find themselves working from coffee shops or from home. citizenM does everything right for the Generation X flexible worker. Their décor is very cool and eclectic, but also practical with a range of seating options offering large collaborative spaces and private workspaces. It’s the perfect place to bring clients to meet -- feeling like the best-kept secret in town and the kind of place that you want to be.
Entrepreneurial Spark has taken Scotland by storm since its inception 18 months ago. It’s a business incubator at heart bringing a collaborative coworking environment to its clients. Entrepreneurial Spark offers more than just coworking, providing businesses with enablement, mentorship, and networking opportunities. With three incubators across Scotland, it’s definitely the place to be for startups.
The Melting Pot is a coworking space focused on social enterprise businesses. Founded in 2007 as a not-for-profit facility, the Melting Pot champions social innovation and connects the social enterprise community. It’s an excellent example of how niche industry coworking spaces can work successfully.
Entrepreneurial Spark in Glasgow. Photo credit: Desk Union. Used with permission.
And it’s awesome to see that there are even more coworking projects underway in Scotland! Coming soon to Edinburgh is the Creative Exchange, supported by Edinburgh City Council with a focus on high-growth tech businesses. There’s also Silicon Walk, founded by a collection of Edinburgh startups who want to grow an entrepreneurial community. We’re also seeing really interesting coworking spaces popping up in Scottish towns such as the Falkirk Business Hub, due to open in June 2013 and providing a mix of coworking space, offices, and meeting facilities as well as a gym, wellness centre, and café.
It seems that Scotland is finally waking up to the benefits of coworking. With an eclectic mix of spaces on offer, there’s something to meet the needs of all businesses. And Desk Union is keeping a watchful eye on the coworking trend, its impact on startups, and the Scottish economy.