Before the launch
Would a city be possible, where every citizens has access to all products and services necessary to live a prosperous, connected, sustainable and happy life?
The early days
The sharing economy certainly seemed to be a big opportunity to get closer to such a city. It was this opportunity that not only inspired many entrepreneurs, policy makers, researchers and citizens, but also united them in a single ecosystem. The roots of this ecosystem go back to 2012, when most sharing economy platforms were still small having less then 10.000 users. Even today’s giants such as Airbnb were still relatively small hosting 75.000 tourist during that year.
Early 2012 a few of the founders of some of the earliest Amsterdam based sharing economy start-ups met at a windy parking lot somewhere near Amsterdam. They decided that even though they each operated their own sharing platform (Peerby - goods sharing, Toogethr - ridesharing, Konnektid - skillsharing, Snappcar - carsharing and Shareyourmeal - foodsharing), it would be worthwhile because they all facilitated a new type of economy where peers can exchange directly with one another. These founders started organizing several peer-to-peer meet-ups in the heart of Amsterdam, growing the sharing economy community.
During 2012 Harmen….
It was during the fall of 2012 when Pieter learned how the set of diverse start-ups active in his Amsterdam neighbourhood were not separate entities, but all part of the same sharing economy family. Like many start-up founders Pieter’s eyes were opened up by the book, What’s mine us yours’ and TED talk, the case for collaborative consumption by global icon and thought leader Rachel Botsman. Being a sustainable development master student, Pieter was struck by the positive economic, social and environmental potential of the sharing economy. However, the phenomenon was still small and there was hardly any research available on its potential. As a consequence Pieter decided to dedicate his thesis to the consumer potential of the sharing economy (ie collaborative consumption).
Meanwhile on the other side of the world Seoul had reached breaking point. With an ageing population, high youth unemployment, pollution issues, 25 million inhabitants in the Seoul metropolis and a population density five times that of New York City, something needed to change. Accumulating more goods, cars and building even more roads was no longer an option. A fundamental switch in urban policies occurred from focusing on tangible infrastructure such as roads, schools and car parks, to the more intangible online infrastructure that enables a more efficient use of existing resources such as space, objects and talent.
Seoul mayor Park Won-soon recognized there were limits to continuing the growth of the city in the way it was always done. For Seoul to thrive in the 21st century, new models were needed. On September the 20th, 2012 the Seoul Metropolitan Government proclaimed the Sharing City Seoul initiative “along with a plan to implement sharing projects closely related to the lives of citizens and to establish and broaden the foundation for sharing. Seoul Metropolitan Government sees the Sharing City Seoul initiative as social innovation measures designed to create new economic opportunities, to restore reliable relationships, and to reduce waste of resources with a view to resolving economic, social, and environmental problems in urban areas all together.”
The main policy directions are promoting and sup- porting private sector and civilian sharing programmes by providing the infrastructure for a sharing city. The “Seoul Metropolitan Government Act on the Promotion of Sharing” was enacted in order to provide the legal grounds for supporting sharing organisations. Both start-ups and established companies received help to build sharing services. The Act includes key provisions such as principles for sharing public resources, designating sharing Non Profit Organisations (NPOs) or sharing corporations, providing administrative or financial support, and organising a sharing promotion commit- tee. Early in 2015 Seoul’s sharing city ambitions are well underway with the recently launched “Open Data Plaza” as one of its highlights. At this “plaza”, more than a thousand data sets have been opened to the public, so that citizens can develop their own applications to enable more sharing. However, creating awareness remains one of the main obstacles in becoming a sharing city.2 Even if it was still in a quite early stage, the sharing economy was starting to take off in various countries around the world. Looking for ways to build a resilient economy, stronger social cohesion and a more sustainable and liveable city, Mayor Park Won-soon was the first to match the sharing economy with ‘the city’, turning Seoul into the world’s first ‘Sharing City.’
Seoul Sharing City: “a new alternative for social reform that can resolve many economic, social, and environmental issues of the city simultaneously by creating new business opportunities, recovering trust-based relationships, and minimizing wastage of resources”.1
Back in Amsterdam...
April 2013 marked the first ‘shareNL meetup.’ This was the first time a wider audience gathered to learn and network about the sharing economy. At this meetup, Pieter met someone from the Research and Statistics Department of the City of Amsterdam who was invited to the meetup by a friend who worked there too. This department was interested in the topic as well and thus Pieter could use their panel and expertise for his master thesis. Because of this collaboration, the difficult task of effectively measuring the potential of the sharing economy, including seven different markets, different roles that people may take on a sharing platform and the role of money in transactions, went of to a good start.
Introduced to each other by Peerby founder Daan Weddepohl, Harmen van Sprang and Pieter van de Glind decided to continue the original idea of the peer-to-peer platforms and became the co-founders of shareNL, the (Dutch) knowledge and networking platform for the sharing economy. From the summer of 2013 onwards they continued organising meetups and started speaking at a variety of events. Like many sharing economy start-ups they appeared regularly in the media, representing the entire sharing economy ecosystem.
August 2013 the research was done, and based on a survey among 1330 Amsterdam citizens it was concluded that 84 per cent of Amsterdam citizens are willing to at least try out one or more sharing economy platforms. The master thesis ended up having a big impact. It boosted the spirit among start-ups, it was a wake-up call for existing industries, an inspiration for researchers from around the world, and eventually, a call to action for City Hall.
A window of opportunity for the sharing city
Ever since Harmen and Pieter officially co-founder shareNL in August 2013 they received calls from all types of stakeholders, including many more sharing economy startups, policy-makers, researchers, business leaders and journalists. Already in September 2013, Harmen spoke for various European policy makers at the European Economic and Social Committee. Aware to the significance of the phenomenon, it did not take long before they decided they wanted to turn shareNL into an independent agency, instead of an organization representing a single set of stakeholders. Being independent would turn shareNL into a safe place for all, so that the sharing economy can be developed in a responsible way with an eye for both its opportunities and its challenges.
The birth of Amsterdam sharing city
During the autumn of 2013 Pieter and Harmen frequently met with a group of volunteers to speak about the future of shareNL, at the attic of a co-working space. It was during one of those sessions that they connected the dots. Pieter’s thesis had proved that Amsterdam citizens are willing to share. Mayor Park Won-Soon of Seoul had proven that a city could become a sharing city.  Composing a vision and a network for Amsterdam became one of shareNL’s earliest activities. A vision of a city that utilizes the opportunities the sharing economy offers to built sustainability, social cohesion and economic resilience. But also a city that aims to formulate answers to the challenges this new and rapidly growing phenomenon entails. Apart from the vision, they also started to built a network of ‘ambassadors’ throughout the city. In their eyes, the city is formed by not only its citizens and the municipality. Not in the least, also entrepreneurs, enterprises and for example knowledge institutions shape the city of today. So what the co-founders of shareNL did, was involving all these ‘players’ and let them accede the network of ambassadors.
Monday the 28th of October 2013 was a stormy day. As Harmen and Pieter drove their bikes through the Amsterdam Canal District there was a roaring sound. A big canal tree collapsed right in front of their eyes smashing a parked car and crashing into the canal. “Disruption is here,” Harmen said as they drove on to the offices of the Amsterdam Economic Board.
The Amsterdam Economic Board – or ‘the Board’ – was established to streamline the working relationships between the private sector, knowledge institutes and government organisations, with a view to further increasing prosperity and well-being in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area (AMA). The Board addresses complex urban issues through innovation and collaboration between the private sector, knowledge institutes and government organisations on the metropolitan scale. The Amsterdam Economic Board is made up of 25 leading directors of academic institutions, company CEOs, alderpersons and mayors from the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area. Together they are devising the strategy for the metropolis of the future.
While the storm lingered on outside Harmen and Pieter pitched their idea to a small team from the Amsterdam Economic Board. Carlien Roodink, former city councillor and Business Innovator at the Board recalls:
On the 21st of November 2013 a policy window of opportunity occurred. Harmen was invited to speak at ‘Smart Innovation in the West-Side,’ organized by the Amsterdam Economic Board. Meanwhile Pieter got invited to speak about his research at the yearly congress of the City’s research and Statistics department. Facing a room with over a 150 local policy makers and city officials, Pieter decided to share the results of his research quickly and then move on to introduce the idea of Amsterdam as the worlds second sharing city.