Day #064: How City Hall can be a little more like Airbnb

How City Hall can be a little more like Airbnb

Inspired by Michael Bierut’s 100 Day Project, 100 Days to a Better RVA strives to introduce and investigate unique ideas to improving the city of Richmond. View the entire project here and the intro here.

  • Idea: Sharing economy for municipalities.
  • Difficulty: 4 — The technology exists but isn’t in a package that can be easily adopted by cities. Progress will be made in the next few years that will make it worthwhile for RVA.

The expansion of the sharing economy through technology over the past five years is one of the most fascinating advancements in recent history. It’s helping Americans trust each other again, it’s tapping into surplus capacity, and it’s driving down the price of goods and services. The advancements have helped consumers, the self-employed, and a few mega tech companies, but government has largely been left out. The Metropolitan Richmond Area should adopt a sharing app for goods and services between municipalities.

The sharing economy has been a recurring theme during this project (#002, #010, #043, #053). The idea is fairly simple. Individuals and businesses have surplus capacity that often goes to waste. By lowering transaction costs using a website or an app, that surplus capacity can be rented at the click of a button. Richmonders are quickly falling in love with Uber, and Airbnb promises to be a lucrative hit during Richmond2015.

The functionality would be no different than most apps in the sharing economy: Chesterfield County is hosting a street festival that will undoubtedly make a mess of the roads, and the county needs two extra street sweepers. Richmond has an abundance of street sweepers. Instead of renting from a private company or making a single employee drive one street sweeper through the night, the county can rent two extra street sweeper from Richmond. Chesterfield County gets machinery, Richmond gets cash, surplus capacity is tapped, and tax dollars are saved.

MuniRent is attempting to do this in Michigan, but at a very small scale. It’s tough to imagine a company not taking this from coast to coast in the next five years. In an area as politically fragmented but as geographically connected as Richmond, an app could help us set aside our arbitrary borders for the collective benefit.

The project could even expand to employees. Cities have constantly fluctuating labor demands. Some work is cyclical and requires significant training. The cost would be the pro-rated salary plus a small premium given to the supplying government. This would provide a service that no temp agency or staffing agency could supply without significant cost.

The advancement doesn’t need to be limited to the public sector: the private sector could create their own network.1 Company X has an unused T-shirt printer. RVANews can rent that T-shirt printer for $100 per day and both companies win.

Again, the idea could expand to labor. Hiring, firing, and training are expensive. In a feast or famine industry like construction, labor could bounce between the cash strapped firms and the firms with high short-term labor demands.

Hotels and taxis are going through huge periods of disruption due to technology right now–and they certainly won’t be the last. The hope is that the gains through creative destruction will be larger than the losses.2 In an era when government needs to do more and more, but citizens seem to be willing to sacrifice less and less, the sharing economy could be an invaluable tool to reconciling diverging values.

Love this idea? Think it’s terrible? Have one that’s ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation.

Photo by: quinet

  1. Cross-pollination would be more efficient and have a larger potential but it would likely violate the bid process. 
  2. Although the losses are almost always focused more intensely on a smaller group of people than the gains. 
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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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