Seoul – A Sharing City

Seoul: A sharing city

Seoul is leading the world in transforming the economy. It has recently made a ground breaking change to designated itself a Sharing City, according to Cat Johnson (2014) on Shareable. The city’s government has embraced what is known as the “sharing economy” by working with both private companies and NGOs to integrate sharing into the workings of the city’s economy. Cat Johnson explains that the early results of this project, launched just a year ago, have been very encouraging.

Seoul has faced challenges. It is considered to be a very modern city, but it has grown at a phenomenal rate. However, the city has been plagued with issues like air pollution and high unemployment as a result of the economic mindset. Johnson argues that there is a consumption mindset, and people had been purchasing things rather than sharing them, common place in a consumption society. In fact she states that:

“This consumption mindset has led 49 percent of households into debt and created a massive waste management challenge as nearly 9,000 tons of trash is generated by Seoul every day”.

However, these have not been the only challenges, and Johnson explains that social issues have also risen. One real problem is that people have become more isolated. There are more elderly people living along. The suicide rate is also reported by Johnson to have risen from 1,376 to 2,391 in just ten years. This is the highest rate of suicide per capita among OECD countries, and in addition to this South Koreans work the second longest hours among these countries and have one of the lowest happiness scores (Johnson, 2014). All of this has driven the urge to recreate the city based on new principles. The city has excellent infrastructure and WiFi. It is all of this that the city’s government is now starting to leverage to further its Sharing City ideals.

Goals of the project are to connect people to share services and redevelop community spirit and trust. There is also a goal of reducing the massive volume of rubbish and reduce consumption. Some of the changes have been simplistic but somewhat profound in nature nonetheless. For example, since 60% of the population of the city lives in apartments, Johnson reports that this fact has been leveraged to create small lending libraries in these apartment buildings. So far 32 such apartment building lending libraries have been created. Of course, this also helps to spark the local community and build a sense of trust, since people go to the libraries and they become known as “social hubs”.

Apartment buildings have not just created lending libraries. There have also been other developments such as the sharing of gardens and common tools warehouses. Communities are being encouraged to organize community activities through applying for grants and subsidies. All of this is designed to rebuild damaged communities and get them back on their feet. Another venture of the Sharing City is to provide official support for tech start-ups as well as other organisations that seek to increase sharing in the city (Johnson, 2014). All of this has been achieved and is continuing to be accomplished by a creative approach to the private-public partnership model.

Some of what has been achieved may be considered to be quite remarkable. For example, public buildings are now being used during their idle hours. In total 779 public buildings have been used more than 22,000 times by people in Seoul. Also, 20 teams were selected for a Youth Business Startup Incubation programme. Sharehub has also been set up to help people to find ways to share with one another. Financial support has offered $450,000 to 27 sharing organisations. Johnson explains that the beneficiaries have included shared parking lots, homestays, children’s clothing exchanges and home sharing in a similar way to how Airbnb works.

Sharing has extended to many different facets of life. For example, public WiFi has been established at 1,992 access points, and car sharing is now somewhat common place, with 1,000 cars being shared 282,000 times in total. Johnson also explains that there is a Seoul Photo Bank that has been created, to which 250,000 photos have been uploaded that can be used for different purposes.

The amazing results of this approach have been fascinating. It is intriguing to see what will happen next.