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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 18 November, 2018
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Opinion: Ireland needs to capitalise on the sharing economy

Why pay through the nose for something when you can rent it more cheaply from a stranger online? Why not share things with your neighbours?

Katie Roche

I AM NOW well prepared and more than ready to share than ever before.

You see, I have reviewed all of the evidence presented to me about sharing and am confident it’s 100% the correct decision.

I’m just back from the OuiShare Festival in Paris – a three-day conference exploring the growth of the sharing economy – where people from around the world gathered to talk about how the tech industry helps people share, rent or sell their resources.

As a former ‘Celtic Tiger’ 20-something-year-old disillusioned with our post-boom dysphoric society, I’ve turned 180 degrees: now, I’m a member of Irish neighbourhood-sharing website Streetbank, where I exchange and receive goods and services for free. I use Airbnb – the website that allows people to rent out their homes – and stay in strangers apartments. I co-share an office in Dublin city.

Share rather than buy

An unforeseen benefit of the internet is that people are starting to share rather than buy. According to Forbes, the sector exceeded €2.5 billion in 2013. It makes sense: why pay through the nose for something when you can rent it more cheaply from a stranger online? Why not share things with your neighbours?

It’s not all hippy-dippy… At the OuiShare Festival, experts such as Douglas Atkin of Airbnb, entrepreneurLisa Gansky, and Vincente Guallart, chief architect of the City of Barcelona, all agreed sharing can answer many of the problems we face.

Outside Ireland, shareable cities are growing fast: in the UK, JustPark has reinvented city parking: more than 18,000 families, school and churches make a second income by renting their vacant spaces. In Europe, car-sharing company BlaBlaCar has had a 135% growth since it started in 2009 with over 1 million users. In Berlin, borrowing shops are springing up in the city where locals donate and borrow things, instead of buying them.

Efficiency and social trust

This shift holds the power to change our lives, for the best. First of all, it helps the economy be more efficient. By bringing people together, by sharing our resources more effectively, we have a better economy – we’re able to live better. Secondly, it helps create stronger, healthier and more connected communities – it builds social trust.

It’s also handy extra income for owners for use renting marketplaces like Airbnb, and can be less costly and more convenient for borrowers who use neighbourhood-sharing sites. And lastly, there’s environmental benefits, by 2050 there will be 9.1 billion people on planet earth, where are we going to put all our waste?

Airbnb’s Brian Chesky summed it up when he asked: “There are 80 million power drills in America that are used an average of 13 minutes. Does everyone really need their own drill?” Quite frankly, no. We don’t. Despite economy screaming to us to shop, shop, shop, an economy of high GDP doesn’t mean happy and healthy lives. Using this as a measurement of Ireland’s standard of living is outdated and needs to be changed.

A country only judged by its GDP is one where the rich get richer, and poor get poorer.

Clever thinking

Luckily, clever thinking and action is happening. We’ve got office-sharing at The Fumbally; skill-sharing at Exchange Dublin; all kinds of sharing at Mabos in Dublin’s Docklands; car-sharing with GoCar; bartering at Trade School Dublin; and bike-sharing with dublinbikes. Currently, there’s battles to be made where authorities seek to hinder community-driven initiatives, but if Ireland wants to flourish and retain its young – it needs to facilitate, not threaten.

In the next five years, we are going to see a boom of new sharing initiatives, and city councils and businesses (who will have to make big changes, like BMW did recently with its new car-sharing service) will have to open-minded and take risks if they want to create smart cities like Barcelona, Copenhagen and Berlin. We can’t allow Ireland to be left behind.

While experts and politicians discuss how to solve Ireland’s broken economy, this may be a part of the solution. We’re already seeing it take shape around us, and Ireland has huge potential, and need, for a shared future. To create an economy that’s open to everyone isn’t a Utopian dream, it’s been showcased in other countries. It’s easily attainable.

I welcome it, will you?

Katie Roche is a journalist and media lecturer, with a passion for community. 

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