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It is time for abundance governance.
Our public resources can be used more efficiently by more people when we focus less on ownership and more on utilization. This model is at the heart of the sharing economy and can be used to improve our cities. Let me explain what I mean.
The Abundance Model
Abundance is the economic model that takes advantage of latent resources that otherwise would be wasted.
Not using your house? Rent it on AirBnB. Not driving your car very often? Sell it and use on-demand options like Über or ZipCar. The things we own are no longer locked up and valuable because they are scarce. Instead, value is derived from a large network of users who can share. New technologies and philosophies now enable us to get more from the things we own.
This change in thinking has exciting implications. When we are less focused on scarcity and more focused on abudance, big challenges are easier to solve. From global warming to fighting inequality, we are not doomed by the tragedy of the commons. Instead, we now enjoy coordination of the commons. We can more easily work together and share resources, increasing value and impact.
While these changes are coming quickly to private property, it is time the same principles are applied to governance.
Three Areas of Government Abundance
There are three easy ways our communities can get started with abundance governance: roads, parking lots and public land.
An aerial view of any city quickly shows that roads take up a lot of room. In South Dakota, where I live, we have perfect Jeffersonian grids with roads cutting up each block into neat squares. What are these roads doing when no one is driving on them? And what are these cars doing considering they sit dormant 95% of the time? (Peers, Inc., 30).
This is a perfect example of a latent resource with potential for abundance. Our roads could serve a purpose beyond waiting for someone to drive on them. Suddenly this network of asphalt is not being wasted during low traffic periods but instead is a vast canvas of space waiting to be used.
Bogatá, Colombia did just that starting all the way back in the 1970’s. They noticed that on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., very few people drove their cars because many people were at church and with family. Instead of having their superhighways sit empty, they took advantage of the space to open up a pop-up park. For eight hours on Sunday, the highway because public space and people walked, hosted yoga classes, sold goods in pop-up shops, ate street food and enjoyed a sense of community. Then, when the road was needed for cars, it again changed purposes.
My own hometown of Brookings, S.D., population 23,000, is doing this all summer. Streets perpendicular to Main Ave. are closed during the evenings once a week to host food, drinks and live music. Typically, very few people would be driving or walking on these roads, so the resource of space can be transformed into a concert and eating venue. It’s a simple way of making better use of what already exists.
Parking is a black hole of downtowns across the United States. Instead of vibrant street life, retail opportunities or public meeting spaces, parking lots create dead zones where no social activity takes place. It’s also a drag on a city’s tax base. Case studies show that cities that choose “parking light” approaches see a 25% increase in downtown property tax compared to those that prioritize excess parking.
Parking is needed (until we move to self-driving cars), but what can be done with that space when it is not filled with cars? Many communities are using the spaces for food trucks to create temporary social zones. Others are taking the Bogatá example and using parking lots to set up farmers markets, pop-up parks or temporary basketball courts on the weekends when parking is abundant.
Another technique is simply making better use of the space that exists. Instead of requiring every business to have a certain number of parking spots, usage can be taken into account. A bank doesn’t need parking after 5 p.m., so the nearby restaurant could share the same parking lot. The apartment parking lot may be nearly empty during the weekday when people are at work so it could be used by neighboring businesses.
An abundance model makes more efficient use of city-owned spaces like parking lots so fewer of them need to be built.
Boulevards and the lawns and outdoor spaces around government buildings are an abundant and beautiful resource that are often used just for looks.
An abundance governance model utilizes these spaces in creative ways. One example is the Little Free Library started in Minneapolis. A small, bird-house-looking construction becomes an easy way to share books and improve literacy. On the city boulevards, residents can construct their own free library and invite passersby to grab a book. Suddenly, books are an abundant resource, found in public spaces throughout the city.
An even simpler example is using abundance of time to improve public spaces. In Boston, residents can adopt a fire hydrant using the Adopt-a-Hydrant app. The “renter” of the hydrant is responsible for shoveling it during snow storms and other people can “steal” the hydrant if the renter doesn’t do their job.
As this radio program highlights, the program is successful in making government more effective and in engaging citizens in the community. This app is now being shares with other communities and modified to enable residents keep tsunami sirens in working order in Honolulu and storm drains in top shape in Seattle.
Often, regulations prevent public spaces from being used abundantly. It may be restrictions on music in the park, rules against commerce on the lawn or hoops to jump through just to use space that otherwise would be sitting empty. We need to rethink our public spaces as truly public. A space that can be different things to different people at different times.
Time for Abundance
The idea of sharing resources is not new.There is one factor that makes this moment unique: technology.
Just as technology makes it possible to share cars, houses and work (with rating to build trust), our communities can think about how to share resources to create better governance and cities.
Governance could change if we shifted from valuing scarcity towards valuing networks. We have the potential to make this shift in our work and communities right now. I’ll be trying to do that in my own community and would love your ideas on the best ways to get started. Of course, in the true abundance model, I’ll be sharing it so we can all improve together.
Let’s create the future, together.