Sharing Cities

What is a smart city?

In the last years, a main goal for cities has been to become smart, to overcome global challenges and make our lives better — but what does smart really mean?

Cities “(…) are the places where most consumption takes place.” (Agyeman, McLaren, 2017). This can be traced back to the 16th and 17th century, when cities like Paris, Madrid and London can be identified as ‘consuming cities’ (Trentmann, 2016) and becoming meeting places of exchange.

In the last years, a main goal for cities has been to become smart to overcome global challenges and make our lives better (World Economic Forum, 2016) — but what does smart really mean?

Environmental challenges, shortage of natural resources and a growing & aging population means for cities that they have to change and adapt to tackle these challenges in the future (Arup, 2011).

It will be important to understand the genesis and why people move to a city. Chirine Etezadzadeh (2015), author of the book “Smart City — Future City?” states, that the intentions of people are different but “(…) they have one element in common: access. Access to jobs, a livelihood (…) access to the necessities of life, (…) access to infrastructures (…)” and so on.

This environment will be facing several challenges in the next years. Today, more than 54% of world’s population lives in urban areas and it is projected, that it will increase to 66% in 2050. This means, that in 2050, 64% more people than today are projected to live in urban areas (United Nations, 2014).

Duncan McLaren and Julian Agyeman (2017), authors of the book ‘Sharing Cities’, stated that cities will be the places where “the worlds greatest environmental challenges will be solved”. They support the thesis, that smart cities must also become sharing cities.

One of the challenges on this way will be to rethink our linear consumption model of products which is mainly based on the extraction of resources and production, far away from the places of their consumption and usage.

Beside taking environmental and economic factors into account, and recognizing that solid waste is mainly a by-product of urban living (Hoornweg, Bhada-Tata and Kennedy, 2013), social and cultural aspects will be even more important to carry out needed behaviour changes of consumers, that will enable the shift to a ‘smarter’ city.

Today, related to, inter alia, the increasing population in cities, residents facing more and more challenges like unaffordable housing, gentrification and social inequality, to name a few (NLC, 2014).

Duncan McLaren and Julian Agyeman (2017) mention, that it will be important for the design of ‘sharing systems’ to think about equity, justice, trust and collaboration.

The rise of mediated forms of sharing can be recognizd by bike or car sharing services, which are centralised models, lead by organisations and enabled by the use of new technologies (Agyeman, McLaren, 2017).

These models see the city as a system and make use of existing networks to tackle not only environmental challenges but also find answeres to changing lifestyles and vlaues of people. As mentioned in the first chapter, these ‘access-over-ownership’ (Rifkin, 2000) or ‘product-as-a-service’ models can contribute to the shift to a circular economy.

To make cities smart, in the sense of a circular economy, “The Danish environment minister Ida Auken suggests: ‘Everything needs to be redesigned,’” (Agyeman, McLaren, 2017). New forms of business models have to be implemented to change the relationship between customer and retailer (brand/company) and contribute to a sharing city.

Global challenges seem overwhelming regarding its complexity. Considering cities as a system, acting on a local scale seems the best way to start. Thackara (2015) is optimistic that every little effort in our “(…) age of networks,” can lead to system wide changes.

Find out more:


Arup (2011) Smart Cities Transforming the 21st century city via the creative use of technology. Arup. Available at: (Accessed: 18 June 17).

Etezadzadeh, C. (2015) Smart City — Future City?: Smart City 2.0 as a Livable City and Future Market, 1st ed. 2016 edition. ed. Springer Vieweg, Wiesbaden.

Hoornweg, D. and Bhada-Tata, P. (2012) What a Waste: A Global Review of Solid Waste Management. Washington: The World Bank. Available at: (Accessed: 15 November 2017).

McLaren, D., Agyeman, J. (2015). Sharing Cities: A Case for Truly Smart and Sustainable Cities, 1 edition. ed. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

NLC (2014) The 10 critical imperatives facing cities in 2014. Washington: National League of Cities. Available at: (Accessed: 15 November 2017).

Rifkin, J. (2001) The Age of Access: How the Shift from Ownership to Access is Transforming Modern Life. London: Penguin.

Thackara, J. (2015). How to Thrive in the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow’s World Today. Thames and Hudson Ltd, New York.

Trentmann, F. (2017) Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-First. 1st edn. Penguin.

UN (2014) World Urbanization Prospects — The 2014 Revision. New York: United Nations. Available at: (Accessed: 15 November 2017).

World Economic Forum a (2016). 4 ways smart cities will make our lives better. The World Economic Forum. Available at: (Accessed: 18 June 17).

Thoughts about Global Design and Future Trends

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Thomas Wagner

Thomas Wagner

Research, Strategy & Design | Service Experience Designer (MA) based in Berlin | Currently Senior Service Designer @ Infarm |

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