City transformation is a major objective of every city planner. Whatever we refer to more livable cities, efficiency, economic growth, the regeneration of poor or industrial quarters, all these objectives need to engage cities in a process of transformation that addresses not only the urban landscape but also economic, behavioral and cultural structures.
Traditionally, urban planners have addressed these transformations through direct interventions in the territory with large public works. This has been the most common mechanism used for reshaping cities and districts.
However, it is no secret that this mechanism, though being highly effective has limitations and needs to be aided by policies that permit and incentive the regeneration of quarters. These policies commonly involve moving part of the population and business to different areas of the city, involving therefore a significant social cost.
Together with the reform of the territory, companies and public organizations are offered tax breaks or other incentives in an effort to motivate them to move to the new areas. However, not only an accurate targeting is almost impossible and sometimes backfires, but the whole process is costly and slow. We confront a typical chicken and egg problem, where companies don’t want to move until there is enough mass to justify it while public resources have to be diverted into the new area hoping for its success.
A major problem in this process is because of the size of the investments associated with the transformation. Certainly, building a hotel in a deprived area, moving a university or a museum are major investments.
Also, even if a hotel brings tourists to the quarter, it offers many of the services that their clients need, particularly in terms of food and amenities, limiting externalities and hence its transformative capacity of the surroundings.
Are there other, maybe better, ways?
Possibly faster and with lower requirements of investment?
Can the so-called sharing economy bring new tools to the table?
If so, what should Cities do in order to benefit from its contribution?