Uber i Airbnb: prohibim el futur?

«Com tantes vegades a la història ens trobem que una nova forma d’organització social, clarament millor per a tothom, es veu aturada per la inèrcia, la legislació i els interessos contraposats»

Aquests dies estic a Londres, aquí hi ha uns 120.000 conductors d’Uber i l’empresa s’està plantejant no agafar-ne més per una temporada. Es un mitjà molt popular en totes les seves modalitats: compartit, normal, de luxe, executiu,… Com ben bé a tot arreu els taxistes van portar Uber als tribunals però aquí van perdre, els tribunals varen dictaminar que mentre es paguessin impostos tot era perfectament legal, és clar els paguen i suposen no només uns ingressos importants per l’estat, sinó també una reducció dels subsidis.

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The “sharing economy” as a lever for City transformation

sharingEconomyCity 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?

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Uber, Airbnb, … good or evil for cities?


During the last years we had a lot of controversy around the sharing economy, particularly its most successful companies: Über and Airbnb were and are in the spot.

The list of examples is quite long, some of them even violent and dramatic such as über cars being burned, airbnb promoting highly successful citizen campaigns in NYC to prevent being banned or even top executives of über imprisoned in Paris.

Many of these conflicts originate with the existing incumbents: taxi companies, hotel chains, … trying to maintain their privileges against technological and/or business model innovation. This is not new, exactly the same thing happened when cars were taking the place of carriages or taxis (a quite recent invention in historical terms) began to establish in cities.

However, these are not the only source of conflicts, others arise from a lack of clarity on the objectives of a city, the type of society that they envision and the way to make it real. Many times, trying not to loose votes, politicians are ambivalent and say one thing, the opposite and the contrary at the same time and of course, this generates conflicts.

If we try to bring clarity to the discussion around the city that we envision, pretty soon we will find ourselves talking about regulations. This is so because they determine to a great extend the type of society that we live in. Do you think regulations are neutral ? or always in favor of the City overall ? Of course they are not ! they shape in many ways our society.

One good example of all this is to analyze the factors that contribute to the success of cities in terms of attracting visitors. Elements such as the brand of the city, its image displaying a vibrant life full of exciting proposals greatly contribute to make the city more attractive and become a magnet for visitors. All this is not created mostly by the government but by local actors.

How is the food there? Are restaurants offering new proposals? How is night life? Do they have interesting live music? How is accommodation there? Overpriced and completely boring hotels or exciting and full of variation coming from a variety of proposals? Is transport a chaos with angry taxi drivers that treat you badly or do you have a multitude of options where to choose? Can you do something else than visiting museums? Do you have theaters, day and night proposals for everybody? …

All these are questions that shape the attractiveness of a city for visitors are aspects where policies play a huge role. For example, live music was pretty common in the Barcelona of the 70’s, however after that period a new regulation was enacted protecting the interests of neighbors and nowadays only in very few places you can find live music, and when you find it, it is mostly illegal. Is this a good thing for the city? I guess we all can agree that it is not ! Enacting norms that effectively ban live music is the only way to protect the interests of a few citizens?

We can find many more examples of norms that backfire when they try to protect the interests of a few against the common interest of the majority.

Will it happen too if we restrict / ban airbnb or über ?

Why is this so important ?

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