Communities Matter

The estates and flat complexes of 1980’s Ireland, although often facing social problems and poverty in their own right, were also thriving, vibrant and convivial places to grow up. Children would roam the streets and play outdoors together, mothers would chat over back-yard walls while hanging out the washed clothes, and front doors were rarely closed or locked.

There was an intimacy and connection amidst it all that lent itself to a sense of place and community. It wasn’t idyllic of course, and many welcomed the opportunities economic growth brought – a chance to get work outside of the community, to earn higher wages, to get a university education, to move out to more upmarket neighbourhoods, to travel or move abroad.

However with that growth and social mobility, there was also an erosion of the bonds that tied people together in the places where they lived. In some suburban areas of Dublin, with people working long hours, facing long commutes and turning to more individual free-time activities it became common for people to barely know or interact with their neighbours and to feel less connected to the physical space they lived in. People were more likely to spend their free time in their high-spec newly purchased homes, than in the local park. Perceptions of safety changed, and children played less often outside with their peers. Hedges grew higher, doors were locked and supermarkets replaced the local grocer, butcher and bakers.

The shift in economic circumstances has brought with it a realignment of values in some communities

Fast forward to Ireland today, and something exciting is happening around community. Without undermining the harsh reality of increased unemployment for many families, the shift in economic circumstances has also brought with it a realignment of values in some communities across the country. People are feeling a need to look outwards, connect with those around them, and create opportunities for sharing, supporting one another and igniting initiatives that sustain local economies and make the places we live more enjoyable places to be. More people are attracted to networks and platforms that allow communities to pool and share resources, and in doing so build greater bonds of trust.

Cloughjordan Ecovillage is a registered educational charity and an internationally recognized destination for learning about sustainable living.

Residents regularly come together for pot-luck meals in people’s homes, and the village-wide email list acts as a means to communicate and share open invitations to parties, celebrations and events organised by individuals

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the rural Irish community of Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary. A small village in the midlands, with a strong sense of community in its own right, it has in recent years become the location of Ireland’s only eco village project. The project, essentially a neighbourhood off the main street of the existing village, has inspired and contributed to a thriving, vibrant and interconnected community life. The design of the development itself encouraged a sense of sharing – homes are built without separate gardens for the most part, and the recreational space is instead a commonly owned and accessible plot of the overall land. There is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm on the site, to which members contribute monthly sharing the produce and the risk. Freshly harvested vegetables are collected by members three times a week with an understanding that you take what you need, while being mindful of the needs of others. An arts collective has animated an empty property, offering accommodation, catering facilities and craft equipment for people to create, host and organise pop-up food and arts events. Residents regularly come together for pot-luck meals in people’s homes, and the village-wide email list acts as a means to communicate and share open invitations to parties, celebrations and events organised by individuals. It is this atmosphere and approach to collectively meeting the needs of individuals in the community that has made it such a great place to live, demonstrated by the fact that the community was listed as a runner-up in the Irish Times Best Places to Live as well as winning the LivCom International Award for most liveable communities.

The erosion of the fabric of community is not of course isolated to Ireland. Worldwide, particularly in urban environments, residents struggle to create a sense of connection and common belonging in the places they live. Great examples are emerging however, of how the sharing economy can enhance this sense of connection and place. Berlin, Germany demonstrates how the sharing economy can become part of the fabric of a city and its many suburbs. In the Prinzessinnengärten in the Kreuzberg area, a derelict site has been transformed into a space where members can harvest their own fresh vegetables, educational events take place, and there is a social space with a café and bar (selling non-profit beer of course!). Not too far down the road, the wonderful Weltkuche provides jobs and training for migrant women, and raises funds by selling delicious ethnic food to the public. On Fehrbelliner Strasse in the North East of the city, the first borrwing shop has kicked off a trend across the country, creating opportunities for people to borrow from a library of household items, rather than purchase the items individually.

The efficiency, enjoyment and ease with which communities and individuals are moving into this new way of transacting speaks volumes

In Australia, cities such as Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are at the forefront of new ripples in the sharing economy. The oft-referenced AirBnB and Uber examples aside, people are matching unused bikes, empty driveways, empty sheds, excess clothing and cars with those who need them. The Secondbite project, established by a Melbourne couple has had great success in sourcing waste food, to provide nutritious catered food to community groups at reduced costs. The Welcome Dinner Project, is an excellent example of trust being built in the face of fears around new arrivals from the Middle East, organising shared meals in people’s homes for new arrivals and established Australians, transforming attitudes and forging friendships in the process.

It seems the core of these initiatives is the connection between people involved. For the most part, the efficiency, enjoyment and ease with which communities and individuals are moving into this new way of transacting speaks volumes, and sees increasingly more initiatives and projects emerging that connect resources and needs in ways that transcend traditional monetary exchanges. Advocates claim it is recreating the personal human interactions and connections that our modern economic model has eroded.


The Culture of Collaborative Consumption

Ever wonder what collaborative consumption has in common with students living together in college apartments, the hospitality and tourism industry, and New York cabbies?

And when we think of collaborative consumption, what do we think of?


We usually think of AirBnB and the like. These businesses do promote collaborative consumption, but to a smaller degree.

When AirBnB first started, it had a lot in common with college students sharing an apartment. One concept of AirBnB was to share the cost of living in an apartment with other people for a fraction of the price that it took to rent out a hotel room. On top of that – it was a more authentic experience for the person renting out the house/room since it was someone else’s home. Since then AirBnB has grown to become a global marketplace and a platform for landlords as well.

Today, college students still share and collaboratively consume services such as accommodation facilities in colleges, thereby lowering costs for each individual student, as compared to if a student had to rent out a whole apartment on their own by themselves.

In major cities like Tokyo, Singapore, and New York, car-sharing services and platforms have popped up as an answer to increasingly prohibitive costs to owning a car. Why cars? Because cabs are expensive, and sometimes, cars are more convenient when you need to go to a more isolated area.

Some carpool  services gain revenue from advertising, and others, charge a membership fee. However, most just share the cost of the travel plus a fee, and increase the efficiency of the transport system as a whole by reducing the number of vehicles on the road, as well as lowering pollution at the same time.

That is another key factor that we often overlook when considering as to why collaborative consumption is great for the public good as well as the consumer – lowered pollution is a key indicator of economic progress and prosperity.

Lowered pollution, which is also in line with less wastage, means more efficiency and productivity in a workforce and economy, which also means more profits and higher standards of living for everyone.

Consider this example – if everyone had a car that could seat 5 people and drove to work everyday, but only one person drove a car, would that not clog the roads and produce lots of smog? On top of that – the stress of being stuck in a traffic jam would piss everyone off so bad, that when they got to work, nothing is actually going to get done! But hey! Everyone has a nice 5 seater SUV!

Now consider the collaborative consumption alternative – public transport and car-sharing or ride-sharing in effect. Less smog from less vehicles on the road, a really smooth journey without jams. Sure, everyone might have to walk a bit when reaching their workplaces since the driver can’t drive up to everyone’s office doorstep, but the amount of time it takes to walk will be drastically lesser than the time spent and frustration gained from waiting in a traffic jam won’t it!

This is a prime example of how collaborative consumption can lower costs for us in our daily lives, it doesn’t need to be a complex model of sharing and collaboration, and can be beneficial to all parties involved.

Now, that’s an example for services. The collaborative consumption model has ‘traditionally’ worked for services rather than goods, since it’s harder to implement, but it has worked and is possible.

A prime example is used goods exchange platforms. Simply put, it is a place, or medium like a website where people go to buy, sell, resell, and most commonly – exchange the goods that they need with each other.

This is Collaborative Consumption too! People recycling their items, upcycling, by refurbishing them and then exchanging them for more value, as well as repairing, and then exchanging them for what they need!

Of course, this is lessened in our day and age, with our culture of consumerism and cheap goods, since it makes it easier to buy something way cheaper, and new, instead of going through the whole process of finding someone to exchange your item with, or giving it to someone who needs it more.

But wait! What if you considered this model of collaborative consumption instead? How would that benefit you?

Simply put – when you practice a culture of collaborative consumption, you create less waste since buying something much cheaper that breaks much faster will make more waste (and cost you more in the long term).

On top of that – when you practice a culture of collaborative consumption, you create a network of links that allow you to access more stuff than you would originally have, compared to if you had just gone to the store to replace your item.

These networks you build will also make it easier (and cheaper) to repair, replace, and find things you not only need, but want.

Everyone makes vintage fans these days, but are they really vintage? You actually find a vintage fan, but it’s broken, and here’s where the friends and people you meet while collaboratively consuming goods come in to help – there’s bound to be a tinkerer who can help you repair and refurbish the fan to working order.

Now, with the advent of the internet, you don’t have to limit yourself to your town – you can collaborate with people beyond your horizons, while consuming goods and services responsibly.

The intrinsic vs. market value of what you own

Have you ever considered why you pay more for some goods, rather than others, and how the prices for these goods are made, and more importantly: What do they mean?

The answer here; simply put, is value.

Value is such a subjective and fluid term we use these days. Housing values, car values, and for some of us, family values and the like.

But here, we examine what we call, monetary value, and how it does not necessarily equate to the value that is intrinsic and unique to you, and your needs.

Let’s start with the most basic assumption of value – that value is a measure of how much something is worth. A price tag therefore, is then nothing but an equally agreed measure of value in monetary terms.

Or is it? Who sets these prices? Why can’t we agree on prices between the providers of these goods and services between ourselves instead of having to rely on figures that seem to just pop out of nowhere?

Well – here’s a spot of good news, the liberalization of information provided through the internet, and modern communications available through the implementation of the internet and other communication technologies has enabled us to get to an age where it is possible, for you to get what you need at the best possible value.

Do notice I said value, I didn’t say price. Why? Because monetary values fluctuate, and don’t always form a fair and beneficial exchange or transfer of value between both parties involved in the trades, or transactions.

Simply put – you might be paying far more than what something is worth when you really need it. I’m pretty sure that has happened to everyone at some point of time hasn’t it!

Why buy something that’s worth three day’s wages when you only need to use it for a day at best? Why? Because you need it, that’s truth, isn’t it.

But what if – there could be a way that you could borrow what you need for a day from someone you know and then later if they need something desperately, they could borrow it from you?

Let’s say you need to plan a nice dinner for your future in-laws, and you don’t have proper table settings. You really want to make a good first impression. But being the actual frugal and thoughtful person you are, you don’t want to spend a lot of money buying best dishes, silver and tablecloth that will only be used once.

Well, turns out your friends have everything you need and you can just borrow what you need for the night and not have to buy anything you won’t use again.

Right now, the table settings are very valuable to you because you need them more than your friends do. And another day, one of your friends will need the whisking machine that’s sitting in your drawer un-used and they will need it more than you do that day. You can share these items together.

So you see, that’s how intrinsic value of an item can quickly change, but not be reflected in the market value, since when you need the table settings, you’d probably let the whisking machine go for a few bucks. But if you did, those few bucks wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of buying proper table settings for your family dinner.

So perhaps, we could reflect on the value that exists in our existing network of friends and family and how we can leverage and use it by sharing our stuff more. Something that’s not useful and has little value to us at this moment could be very valuable to a friend who really needs it right now. On top of that, consider if you will, how this shared network of items creates less waste for our planet.

Think creatively when you need something for an event or just a day, show you care for the planet and reach out to your friends and family to borrow what you need. There’s even a sharing app for that 😀
Happy Sharing!