Can Cupcakes Inspire Collaborative Consumption in our Cities?

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This post is also available in: Chinese (Traditional)

When Kirsty, my sister’s sister-in-law, arrived at Christmas with cupcakes in jam jars exquisitely wrapped we knew she had a product worth developing… and eating! Like many of us, Kirsty has a dream, to spend her working week doing what she is truly passionate about. Regrettably, mega corporations, the big banks and a global recession have created in us a fear of losing a steady salary, a perception of risk and an anxiety towards change. So can sharing capture the spirit of doing things differently and ignite that creative fire in our bellies?

Yes I think it can. When Rachel Botsman, author of ‘What’s Mine is Yours’, said “we don’t need to own a drill we just want a hole in the wall” her words resonated with everyone.

Of course sharing is nothing new. When I was growing up, people were always knocking on our door asking to borrow my Dad’s cement mixer and hardly a week passed without someone going into my Mum’s haberdashery shop wanting her to fix up their botched sewing project. Sharing just happens in country towns, but how do we facilitate sharing in the anonymity of the city?

‘Collaborative consumption’ is about sharing, trading and renting rather than owning. Enabled by technology, we can access all manner of assets from houses to technical skills. From global market places to emerging concepts like peer to peer holiday rentals, it has changed what we need, buy and use. But I don’t think sharing is brave enough. We need to push the boundaries and that’s where Kirsty and her cupcakes come in.

Kirsty can’t afford to start her own business. The council won’t let her use her own kitchen, retrofitting a domestic kitchen is unviable and commercial spaces are too big and expensive. So what can people like you and me and Kirsty do in our cities to mainstream sharing?

For a start we can share commercial space. Most cafés where I live close on a Saturday and don’t reopen until Monday. Even when they are closed they still have the bills to pay; rent, insurance, electric and so the list rumbles on. So why don’t we share our commercial spaces? We could give people like Kirsty ‘a fair go’. Wouldn’t it be ingenious if Kirsty could ‘borrow’ a cafe, closed on Sundays, to make her cupcakes and realise her dream?

We could share our cars. Apparently, the average car is parked for 95% of its lifetime and 70% of traffic in our city centres are searching for a parking spot. Whether you believe these statistics or not is inconsequential, the truth is that our cars cost us money when they are moving and even more when they are lying idle. That’s why BMW created ‘Drive Now’ the first car sharing scheme with premium cars, based on instant access and devoid of fixed pick-up/drop-off locations. BMW allows ‘us’ to get a car when and where we need it. I admit it’s not always easy. I once shared a car with my friends Nigel and Roger. Sharing between friends requires planning and fair amount of patience!

What I’m getting to here is that we can share our ‘stuff’. When you live in a rented apartment like me, space is at a premium, but outweighed by the ‘shared’ benefits; the swimming pool and the gym. In her book ‘Why We Want What We Don’t Need’ Juliet Schor explorers how buying, owning and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ has defined our lives. I dream of a ‘Man shed in every suburb’ a place where we share tools, belongings and skills. Sharing creates friendships and friends form resilient communities.

If we really want sharing to be mainstream we have to think differently. These stories provide a prompt for change but for habitual change our city planners need to change planning laws, our stores need to focus on access as well as selling and we need to focus on use rather than owning. Voluntary simplicity; sharing and renting, lets me spend my time and money on things I really love; scuba diving, surfing and sailing, because that’s what life is all about. Tim Smit, Founder of the Eden Project, always says, “Greatness comes from enabling people to think an idea is theirs”. With that, I’ll leave you with an open invitation to help Kirsty trial her dream business.

Rachel Smith is a Principal transport Planner with AECOM in Brisbane. Rachel is the founder of Cycling Super Highways, co-founder of Lazy Sunday Cycle, a bicycle blogger and part of the international mobile laboratory the BMW Guggenheim LabImage courtesy of Iammantin on flickr

  • Kay Drabsch

    I really like this one Rachel. Takes the concept of shared-value to a new level.

  • Anonymous

    great post.  New York City, where i live, is soon (and finally!) to launch a bike-sharing program.

  • Leilson

    See also the site of consumption collaborative BuscaLá http://www.buscala.com.br in Brazil.

  • Susie_feeney

    Hi Rachel
    Love the sentiments expressed here.  It struck a chord when I was younger and read of the idea of a street sharing a lawn mover.  Plus you get to meet your neighbors when it comes to negotiating the use of said mower. All good!