When the sharing revolution met physical design

The sharing economy has transformed how we live, work and travel. But, when combined with physical design, could it solve major urban issues too?

That’s the question the 2016 Urban SOS challenge, Fair Share, set out to answer. With Van Alen Institute and 100 Resilient Cities — Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, we asked multidisciplinary student teams to work across disciplines to explore the nexus of the sharing economy and urban infrastructure, and consider how the two could be fused to address acute equity issues in the world’s cities.

Teams from more than 30 countries tackled issues including urban poverty, food deserts, job creation and the global refugee crisis. We’ve outlined four key themes that emerged with the potential to change the way we think about urban infrastructure needs and opportunities.

Click on the link below to find out how post offices could become food hubs, design can give people political power, cities can make waste collection sexy, and refugees could reclaim abandoned buildings.

What We Learned

Small scale can have a big impact.

Fair Share teams understood that design and digital sharing platforms can thrive where budgets are limited and large-scale investment unrealistic. The teams proposed new infrastructure at a human level, such as apps to help vendors find unused space paired with mobile display structures. Their ideas could start small but scale up for bigger impact.

Supply and demand need some help.

As income inequality continues to rise, Fair Share teams developed ingenious ways to bring together people who have services to offer with counterparts who have money to pay for them, helping local economies function more efficiently and inclusively. The WELP team proposed connecting households with disposable waste to waste collectors who would earn income and gain access to essential services.

Solutions live in unlikely places.

Ensuring infrastructure works for everyone can seem like an impossible challenge. However, making unexpected connections can point to new solutions. Linking unmet need, unused infrastructure, and untapped resources, Living City proposed engaging refugees to launch pop-up businesses in abandoned spaces — providing unique experiences to tourists, and bringing refugees together with residents to improve neighborhoods.

Curious about the future? Ask a student.

Digital technologies and physical design are often created and exist independently of each other. But, with students already using technologies in new ways and eager to work across disciplines, who better to marry the two? We hope Fair Share will inspire a new wave of initiatives that bring together student designers of digital and physical worlds to address urban challenges.