July 2009 Archives

July 15, 2009

The Carsharing Revolution Comes to Utah

The Salt Lake City Council approved a new ordinance this week allowing a carsharing company to start operating there. The city code had to be amended to make it happen, but U Car Share will start serving Salt Lake City residents within the next three months. U Car Share is a subsidiary of U-Haul, meaning it's probably more profit-driven than mission-driven like some of the original carsharing companies. But hey, it's one more city with a carsharing program and that is a good thing.

July 9, 2009

Picture the Sharing Revolution, Part 2: Driveways

Today, the average household has about 2.28 cars. If every household gave up one car and met any transportation gaps with carsharing, carpooling, bicycling, and public transportation, we'd free up a ton of driveway space. Here are some thoughts about what people can do with all of this newfound space:

  • Driveway Movie Theater. My partner pointed out that with a long extension cord and projector, we could turn our driveways into good old-fashioned outdoor theaters (not "drive-ins" mind you, because no one will be driving). Wait until sunset, cover the garage door with a sheet, set up some chairs in the driveway, fire up the popcorn popper, and press "play."
  • A Mural at Every House. Garage doors are great spaces for murals, and murals are a wonderful way to bring communities together and make the world a more beautiful place.
  • Chalk Art Studio and Gallery. Along the same lines of beautifying the neighborhood, you can turn one driveway into a chalk art studio and gallery. Keep a bucket or two of good chalk around, and let the creativity flow. A sloped driveway would be especially good for this, because it makes for easier viewing by awestruck passers-by.
  • Skating Rink and Skate Park. Create a barrier at the end of the driveway so that no one rolls into the street, install a grinding rail, and set the kids loose to skate to their hearts' content. (With proper supervision, of course, and only if everyone is using wrist guards and helmets. I'd also recommend knee, elbow, and -- oof -- butt pads.)
  • Basketball Court. That's a no brainer.
  • Parking for the Neighborhood Electric Cars. You can use one driveway as a charging station for the shared electric vehicles in the neighborhood.
  • Container Herb and Vegetable Garden. Install a container garden in one driveway so that all neighbors can all come grab a sprig of oregano or rosemary when a recipe calls for it.
A note about removing driveways: Another option is to remove all or part of a driveway and put in a garden, lawn, or playground. But before you convert parking land to park land, check your local zoning laws and get permission from your city. In many neighborhoods, it's a requirement that each house have a certain amount of driveway space. This is how cities control crowded street parking conditions. There's a possibility that your driveway is larger than your zoning law requires, so it may be worth checking into the possibility of partial removal.
July 7, 2009

Picture the Sharing Revolution, Part 1: Garages

A sharing revolution will transform everything about our world -- it will transform our streets, our neighborhoods, our work, even our garages. Especially our garages. This is Part One of a series. I'm going to start, piece-by-piece, examining what our world would look like once the sharing revolution takes hold.

Starting with garages.

More than half of all U.S. households have them, and more often than not, they are like GIANT CLOSETS -- filled to the brim with stuff we use infrequently: lawn mowers, weed whackers, ladders, snow blowers, sports equipment, tools, junk you've been meaning to get rid of but haven't gotten around to yet, etc.

But to a sharing neighborhood, each garage is 400 square feet of pure potential. If everyone on a block gets together and consolidates their stuff (getting down to one lawn mower on the whole block, for example), if they get rid of some cars and plan more carpooling and carsharing, have a huge neighborhood yard sale, repurpose each garage, and give everyone access, the neighborhood could be transformed into a virtual resort. Picture a block where 8 neighbors repurpose their garages:

  • Garage #1: The Gym. Drawing from neighbors' existing equipment, put in the stationary bike, a treadmill, an elliptical machine or two, weights, and so on, and give everyone access during reasonable hours. Cancel your gym memberships and save some money, too.
  • Garage #2: The Music Room. Soundproof the heck out of one garage, roll in a piano, put in a drum set, DJ's decks and a disco ball, and the neighborhood garage bands will be off and rockin'. Sometimes open the garage door and have a dance party in the driveway.
  • Garage #3: The Workshop. Consolidate tools, workbenches, and other useful items into one garage. Be sure to carefully label everything or take inventory so you don't forget whose tools are whose. All neighbors can come to repair broken household items, or do wood working projects.
  • Garage #4: The Rec Room. Give it a cozy feel with some carpeting and couches, fill it with toys, games, and a ping pong table, and let the fun begin!
  • Garage #5: Art Studio. This would be a place for folks to share art supplies, spread out with their art projects, and store their works in progress.
  • Garage #6: Stuff Library. This is where you store that one neighborhood lawn mower, and any other items that neighbors are willing to lend to each other -- bread machines, sewing machines, camping gear, volleyball net, and so on.
  • Garage #7: Dry Goods "Store." Neighbors who want to save money could make bulk orders together and store goods in once place, and maybe come up with a ticket system for dividing expenses. For example, neighbors could buy 500 rolls of [recycled] toilet paper and store them in Garage #7. Each time a neighbor needs to stock up, he or she can go in the garage, "pay" 4 tickets per roll, and take home what is needed. It's like having an informal grocery cooperative on your own block.
  • Garage #8: The Library. Carefully label your books and DVDs and shelve them here. Come up with a system for checking items out. Add a couch or two, and the library becomes a quiet place for anyone to come, relax, and get lost in book land.
This all sounds like a huge and possibly daunting project, but the idea can start small. You can start by teaming up with one neighbor. Store things in one neighbor's garage and turn the other neighbor's garage into a gym or rec room. When it feels right, propose the idea to another neighbor, and turn their garage into a workshop, and so on. Then add another neighbor. And another!
July 5, 2009

Sharing Revolution v. Big Grey Cloud

With all the excitement around the release of The Sharing Solution, I have been daydreaming lately about the sharing revolution. The sharing revolution. Hmm... that seems to merit capital letters: THE SHARING REVOLUTION!

That's better.

We are on the brink of something exciting, something with the power to transform our world. I love to imagine the near future, when people everywhere share cars with their neighbors, start local tool-lending libraries and childcare cooperatives, do regular mealsharing with friends, and form casual cohousing arrangements in every neighborhood. What's more, the value of all of these things is somehow greater than the sum of their parts, and the potential of it all makes me gasp.

First of all, I've seen all those tiny green sprouts popping up all over the place. They are everywhere: sprouts of hope, new technologies, new attitudes, social justice, green collar jobs, and community building. They are sprouts of community gardens, solar panels, bicycle lanes, buy-local initiatives, recycling programs, fair trade, microlending programs, restored creeks, and so many other beautiful things.

Okay, granted, there's a huge grey cloud making it hard to see these little sprouts. It's true that the economy, the environment, war, unemployment, evictions, foreclosures, homelessness, contamination, water shortages, businesses closing, and the disappearance of fish in the sea, to name a few, make for one very large grey cloud (VERY LARGE GREY CLOUD).

But the sprouts are most definitely there. What I'm wondering is: When are these sprouts going to grow enough to overtake the grey cloud? Seems to me that if they grow just enough, they'll create fertile ground for more growth, and more, and more! But for now, their growth is frustratingly slow. Too slow?

I could think of ways to speed them up, but many ways require change mostly beyond my control. There are top-down changes, like getting the government to put money into green-collar job creation, instead of, say, prisons. But I'm not holding my breath -- and I'm not expecting our government to catalyze the growth of the sustainability movement (though I truly appreciate that our President is on the right track).

What about all those millions of people with wonderful ideas, great intentions, and the will to change the world? The grassroots! Couldn't they (I mean, we) get this new green revolution going? Unfortunately, with the way things are going, I'm worried that we won't. So many of us are overworked, burnt out, struggling to make ends meet, and worried a lot about our own survival right now. It's not easy contending with a large grey cloud.

But I only say all this to emphasize the importance of the missing ingredient: Sharing! Or, perhaps I should say: SHARING! Sharing has the most potential to add momentum to the changes already taking place, getting us to the tipping point where a sustainable and socially just world is truly possible. Sharing is not just the fertilizer that helps those green sprouts grow bigger. Sharing is more like a catalyst -- one small ingredient that you can add to the mix that makes everything just explode.

The power of sharing is unique in a handful of ways:

  • Sharing, unlike recycling, is naturally contagious. Sharing opens up a pattern of generosity and mutual caring that breeds on itself. A lot of other things we do to change the world aren't quite so viral. One person reducing his or her waste, for example, may or may not inspire a neighbor to do so. But offering to let your neighbor use your basketball hoop or eat strawberries from your patch opens up the flood gates of generosity.
  • Sharing is self-serving, so we'll want to do it. Sharing helps us meet our needs more efficiently and cheaply, and sharing our snow blower with a neighbor might mean that she will let us use her hot tub. (Yessss!) Sharing builds community, which makes us happier people, and cooperation has been shown to release endorphins. So there's no need to force anyone to share -- people will naturally start doing it to enjoy the benefits.
  • Sharing reverses the drain on our time, energy, and resources. For those of us who are spread way too thin, sharing saves resources, money, time, and energy, thereby freeing us up to garden, compost, recycle, hang our laundry, ride our bicycle, volunteer, advocate for social and environmental justice, and do things to help ourselves and the planet. We'll all get a little more rest, the support of a community of sharers, and the strength we need to get all the sprouts growing. In short, sharing gives the grassroots the time, energy, and resources we need to grow a better world.
  • Sharing connects all of our isolated world-changing acts and boosts their potential. As I noted, the sprouts are everywhere -- people planting urban food gardens, composting their food waste, and installing solar panels. But many of these are things we do in isolation -- and when we can find the time and energy. Sharing adds the element of community, which boosts the potential and the impact of everything we do -- neighbors can get together to jointly purchase or bargain for solar power, or they can start a neighborhood compost project. It's more efficient, and each additional person who joins the effort compounds the benefit to the earth and to the others in the group. Much of what we do to save the world can be done better if we organize and cooperate, and it can be much more fun that way, too!
  • We don't have to wait for someone else to hurry up and do anything. We don't have to wait until our government starts a new program or provides needed funding. We don't need to change the laws. We don't have to wait until a scientist invents a solution. We don't even need to form a nonprofit or fundraise to get started. We just start sharing. Today.
  • Every single one of us can share. I've been known to say things like: "I can't afford to make a donation;" "I don't have time to volunteer more;" and "I don't know how to install solar panels." It's all true. But it's hard to say, "I can't afford to share," or "I don't have time to share," or "I don't know how to share." Sharing is something that everyone can do. Even a curmudgeon, even a poor person, even a busy person. I think the hardest part is getting started, then ironing out the details, understanding everyone's expectations, and figuring out the logistics. But my friend Emily Doskow and I just wrote a book to help everyone through that part. So otherwise, there's nothing stopping any of us from sharing.
  • Sharing is a clean and easy way to get rid of the big grey cloud. Somehow or another, we need to get rid of that cloud. Otherwise our future looks like, well, a big grey cloud. There are all kinds of approaches to this -- some folks reform the system, lobbying, advocating, and making changes bit-by-bit. This is an important thing to do, but it's way too slow. Others propose bringing down the system in one fell swoop, which usually involves an uprising, or a full-blown violent revolution. I can only imagine that this would be messy. Very messy. The system has very large weapons, and even if we do succeed in taking out the system, we will then be faced with the task of rebuilding something on top of a big mess. Fortunately, we really don't need to remove the system before we can start replacing it. Even while the grey cloud is still hanging out, we can start sharing, nourishing our local economies, going organic, and creating rewarding green-collar job opportunities. The spouts of our new system will simply overtake the cloud with time.

First, there's the "grow or die" economy -- where companies must compete in order to survive, grow in order to compete, and create increasing demand for their products in order to grow. And the best way for a company to sell a lot of a product is to create a culture of "self-reliance" and "convenience," convincing all people that they should have one of their OWN. This culture of "self-reliance" is so ingrained in us that it would feel awkward asking the guy in the neighboring apartment unit if he would like to share a vacuum cleaner. Vacuum manufacturers would want us to believe that we should each have a vacuum, or even two.

Second, there's the fact that, until recently, we could maintain this lifestyle without actually seeing the impact of it. Now we have seen how perpetual growth is eating away at the planet's natural resources, melting the icecaps, and undermining a stable economy. Now the images of factory farms and third world sweatshops have made their way into our minds, and we are all searching for a more compassionate and sustainable way.

In the meantime, we have gotten out of practice with sharing. Sharing and cooperation are arguably as old as civilization itself. But today, much of the sharing and cooperation we do are managed by the government or businesses via incredibly complex systems of global cooperation. As consumers, we mostly just experience the end-products, such as electricity, water, manufactured goods, and food. So while we benefit greatly from cooperation, we have lost the ability to do it directly and face-to-face. In this sense, we are a vulnerable culture. We are blinded to the harms that our consumption inflicts on the world, and we are not prepared to meet our needs if or when the complex system crumbles.

So we might as well roll up our sleeves now, gather our friends, family, and neighbors, and get creative. Solar power cooperatives, neighborhood rainwater catchment installations, a cooperatively owned water purification system, community supported agriculture, neighborhood fruit tree harvests... The possibilities are endless and they will completely transform our world. That's why it's a sharing revolution. Not a trend, not a movement, but a REVOLUTION. Goodbye grey cloud. Sharing is here to save the planet.