Seoul's Sharing City Policy Strategy

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By Monica Bernardi, Davide Diamantini:

"The city is aware that, soon, the so-called breaking point will be reached. For this reason, the last and current administration, led by the mayor Park Won-Soon, has started a deep reflection on the best strategies to reply to the current urban challenges. The reflection was based on the existing infrastructures and on the city’s potentialities. Back in 2008, in conjunction with the global economic crises, the city started to talk about the Sharing Economy, but it was not until 2012 that the issue was introduced in its political agenda, as a complementary and experimental way to support the economic development, reduce the environmental impact and strengthen the social cohesion. The incitement came directly from the Mayor, who has a long experience of activism (more than 30 years) and a strong orientation towards citizens and their wellbeing. The previous administration was more focused on infrastructures and technologies, and created the proper landscape that today is allowing the sharing economy’s services to thrive. As underlined by Nan Shil Kwon, a spokeswoman of Creative Commons Korea and member of ShareHub, “the high penetration of IT services and social networks has naturally led to the identification of the sharing economy as an intervention strategy”, facilitating the adoption and dissemination of sharing and collaboration practices and encouraging the development of projects and business associated with them. So the city has embraced the sharing economy declaring itself as a Sharing City for the first time in September 2012, launching the project “Sharing City Seoul” and starting to apply the concept of sharing economy to its urban policies.

The main peculiarity of Sharing City Seoul is the great commitment of the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) and therefore the strong public engagement. Seoul aims to bring the sharing economy to all its citizens, expand the sharing infrastructures, promote businesses that are already dealing with sharing, incubate new companies, put underutilized public resources back into and provide greater access to data and digital services. Overall, it aims to create an ecology where the sharing economy can develop in an autogenous way, a “Sharing Ecosystem” based on a “Sharing Culture”, with a new sensitivity towards sharing, cooperation, exchange, collaboration.

The measures on which it has worked are mainly:

1. Preparation of laws and systems to promote sharing. After declared itself a “Sharing City” in September 2012, on December 31 of the same year, the “Seoul Metropolitan City Sharing Promotion Ordinance” was enacted, thanks to a series of public hearings that allowed the local government to collect information and opinions from sharing economy activists and citizens. The newly enacted ordinance establishes the rules for implementing the project and dictates the support of the city in the vitalization of sharing not only in the public sector, but also in the private sector. In fact, the project includes companies and organizations able to act on specific social problems, recognized as “sharing companies/organizations” and supported by the government, and new startups that can count on a public guarantee (the logo of the project, the blue peanut - Alimteo, marked the selected organizations). The ordinance called also for the creation of an internal division voted to the management of the project: the Social Innovation Division. In addition another political act has been drawn up, the “Seoul Metropolitan Government Act for Promoting Sharing” (January 2014), which provides the legal framework to support non-profit organizations that work in the sharing economy field while committing the necessary infrastructures for the promotion of the Sharing Economy. In the first phase of the project, 20 new sharing enterprises were selected through the Youth Business Startup Incubation program, providing offices and workspaces, advisory services and a total of 240,000 dollars to 10 startups. The total investment has been 450,000 dollars in 27 sharing organizations or businesses. Among these, there are online platforms that facilitate house sharing, like AirBnb (Kozaza, BnB Hero…), baby clothes exchange (Kiple), parking lot sharing and other exchanges of goods, knowledge and skills.

2. Establishment of a policy execution body under private-public governance. The cooperation between the private and public sector is publicly considered a key element of the project. In February 2013, the city established the Sharing Promotion Committee, composed of 15 members, 12 coming from the private sectors of IT, CSR and social innovation and 3 from the public administration (a city councilor and officials). The committee deliberates on the selection of ‘sharing companies’ and suggests diverse opinions on their business operation, and monitors and evaluates their work. As suggested by the professor Jihoon Jeon, member of the Committee, “the local government has addressed in first instance to the services providers rather than the customers because if the city is able to provide good services and at the same time to spread awareness of the potential of these new forms of economy, citizens naturally will follow and enter in the process”. Also, as Botsman and Rogers believe, if there is a system that facilitates sharing, reuse and participation, the society will adopt it (2010).

3. Opening of an online sharing information portal (SHARE HUB). is the gateway to the Sharing Economy in the city, the bridge that connects citizens, businesses and local government. Created thanks to cooperation with private organizations, Creative Commons Korea38 (and managed by it), the web portal gathers all the information and experiences of sharing and collaborative consumption of the city. It also introduces overseas sharing activities; connects of people, businesses, government and NGOs interested in a better sharing; and supports networking with companies and organizations related to sharing. The Seoul Metropolitan Government provides administrative and financial support, cooperating on some aspects such as management and advertising of the sharing companies. As underlined by Mr. Hak Young-Song, project manager of the Social Innovation Division, “through the portal citizens are always informed on the organized events and can express their opinion” generating an ongoing exchange of ideas. The byword is “Sharing is the way of life for sustainable tomorrow”.

4. Seoul Metropolitan Government, promoter of the sharing economy. The main role that local government is playing makes it an enabling platform for advertising events and sharing services, for deploying a strong sensitivity on the topic and for supporting companies based on sharing values. The city does not handle businesses directly but helps startups who work in sharing to find a place in the market, provides programs of entrepreneurial support, advice and mentoring sessions with senior entrepreneurs and experts, and also advertises events, initiatives and platforms (SMG, 2014a, 2014c). One example is the “Sharing Economy Startup School”, today in its third edition, that aims to enhance understanding of the sharing economy and to support startups by developing specific sharing economy business models (the schools was addressed to member of no-profit organizations, community activists, those preparing for venture startups, etc.)..

5. Installation of an information exchange window with the world. The city of Seoul really cares about international relations and perspectives exchanges with foreign experts. It is always well informed on the development of the sharing economy abroad and aims to reinvigorate its project thanks to the comparison. For this reason, among the first initiatives, a Sharing Economy Advisory Group has been created composed of international experts: Joe Gebbia, AirBnb co-founder, Rachel Botsman director of Collaborative Lab, April Rinne, CSO of Collaborative Lab, Herald Heinrichs, professor at the Lüneburg University, and Neal Gorenflo, co-founder of Shareable. The group meets periodically to provide information on the trends of the sharing economy abroad and give ad hoc advice.

Recently the SMG has created another entity to guarantee the transparency of the process: the Sharing Facilitation Committee to solve potential tensions among sharing business e current laws (Johnson, 2015). The Municipalities strictly believes on the importance of correcting obstructing status or systems by maintaining a cooperative relationship with the central government while supporting sharing companies/organizations. For this reason he recently started a legislative review in cooperation with the National Assembly and the Central Government to ensure better institutional support to the sharing economy. The activities of the Sharing Facilitation Committee are related to the consultation started in April 2015 among various internal departments to discuss the possible problems related to the sharing economy.

The project “Sharing City Seoul” is focusing on new sharing economy businesses able to reply to some of the biggest social problems facing the citizens (such as meetings between generations, recycling, reducing isolation, creating community, creating new jobs, providing funding and specific advisory programs with experts in communications, marketing and social business, organizing meetings not only for the selected organizations but also for future entrepreneurs and for all those who have an idea of sharing business). Within the project the public administration intends to raise awareness among citizens around the concept of sharing, encouraging its practice, with specific local events (such as the Sharing Seoul City Fair, the Sharing Market), courses (Sharing Economy Startup School) and meetings in schools (Sharing Economy Clubs, Schools Sharing) in order to let know people what, when, and how they can share in the city. In addition, the Municipality is opening its public spaces to citizenship, allowing companies and citizens to organize events and opening these areas during usually closed hours. The attention to young people is a relevant element, not only inside the project but also in the general city agenda. The public administration is encouraging youth to consider the potential of the sharing economy to create new jobs opportunities, to reduce isolation and social exclusion, to create communities, and to live in a sustainable way. For this reason, it has favored the opening of special spaces for young people, such as YouthZone and YouthHub. Moreover, it is facilitating the use of private and public empty and unused spaces for parking (parking lots) and encouraging the shared use of cars (with 5 carsharing companies and 400,000 users). Thanks to this open attitude, to date 63 sharing companies have been selected and supported, and by 2018 the aim is to get to 300 (in order to cover more sectors and reply to the needs of different targets of people in an inclusive perspective). The chosen companies are so divided: 25 offer space-sharing services, 15 goods sharing services, 16 are companies devoted to the sharing of skills, experience and time and 7 companies work on the field of content sharing. In addition, more than 23,000 groups of people have used shared spaces provided by the municipality, generating over 9,000 opportunities for shared use of the spaces. Within the same SME, the Citizens Hall has been created, a place for sharing open to all citizens, providing resources, spaces for discussion and proposals, opportunities of gathering, exchange and cooperation. In this frame, the citizen is always at the center, since the SME has a precise inclination to the human dimension and, as it declares, points to a real paradigm shift that affects the daily lives of its citizens. The option to select “Sharing villages” and to promote good business models inside them falls into this logic of supporting citizens as main actors of the city system.

As for the case of Milan, also in Seoul, the initiatives of the project “Sharing City Seoul” are part of a broader framework of policies that the city is carrying out to improve the quality of life of citizens and make the city more sustainable. The strategy “Smart Seoul”, as seen, is the first frame from which the sharing city originated; it is divided in three steps: build Smart infrastructures (2011-2012) based on existing ICT projects, provide Smart Services (2013-2014), and improve Smart services (2015)." ([email protected])