Articles

The Sharing Economy Shakes Up Cities

The next wave of change for cities will come from a combination of the sharing economy, and self-driving cars, which one expert says will become a reality within five to 10 years.

by Michael Strand The Salina Journal, Kan. / October 9, 2015

(TNS) -- Several current trends and technologies could collide to dramatically reshape cities in the near future — including leaving areas such as parking lots largely unused and needing some other purpose.

“We’re on the precipice of a very tumultuous and exciting time for cities,” said Stephen Hardy, a city planner who helped redesign Greensburg after that town’s 2007 tornado. Hardy is the chief product officer for a company called Mindmixer in Kansas City.

Hardy grew up in Salina and was back Thursday to give a talk on the future of cities as part of Kansas State University Salina’s Civic Luncheon Lecture series.

The first two big trends to affect American cities were the Industrial Revolution, which brought waves of people into cities from rural areas, and the automobile, which made suburbs possible.

The next wave of change, Hardy said, will come from a combination of the “sharing economy” with services such as Uber and AirBnB, and self-driving cars, which he said will become a reality within five to 10 years.

Beds and cars

Already, he said, AirBnB, which links travelers to people living in a given city willing to temporarily rent out a room, has more rooms available than the Hilton hotel chain — and it has just 800 employees, compared with Hilton’s 150,000.

Uber, which connects people needing a ride with people willing to drive them for a fee, now has more revenue in San Francisco than all the city’s taxi drivers combined.

And with self-driving cars, he said, industry experts are predicting most people will give up owning a car and simply call for one when needed. And instead of sitting idle for 23 hours a day, most cars will be driving 12 hours or more daily.

“The last 50 years in cities were about the automobile,” he said. “The next 50 will be about the automobile’s disappearance.”

Hardy said he’s used aerial photography to estimate that in the most thriving parts of Kansas City — the Crossroads and the River Market — roughly 50 percent of the space is devoted to cars, either as streets or parking lots. Downtown Salina is similar, he said.

New ways to use data

Another change is the ability to organize different sets of data to predict changes. An example would be a project in Omaha, Neb., that used census data on home ownership and age to predict which neighborhoods would have the most homes for sale in the next few years. In New York City, data on the ages of people living near specific parks was used to help guide park development.

Breakthroughs in technology also can allow people to gather and organize data that wasn’t previously possible, he said.

As an example, he cited a neighborhood in Kansas City that, for at least a generation, had complained about air pollution from a rail yard. A $500 air sensor was purchased and moved around the neighborhood on a regular basis, establishing pollution patterns. One mother was able to combine the pollution data with records from her child’s asthma inhaler, showing a strong correlation between high-pollution days and inhaler use.

“She was able to go to the city and say the air was making the asthma worse — and back it up,” he said.

©2015 The Salina Journal (Salina, Kan.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.