This is the second of a series of articles in which Nesta explores smart city initiatives that combine tried and tested hardware with “collaborative technologies”. It draws on the innovation charity’s recent report, Rethinking smart cities from the ground up.
BlockPooling is a social network for neighbours in Singapore that is trying to create stronger communities and make the city-state more sustainable.
Set up in 2013 with a grant from the government, BlockPooling builds on well-known European equivalents such as Peerby and StreetBank: platforms which let people borrow or lend things they own, advertise their skills, or organise community events.
The sharing economy has an important role to play in bringing communities together. In 1970, sociologist Richard Sennett noted that urban communities in the developed world had lost their social bonds because neighbours no longer needed to share skills and belongings – a result of their new found affluence.
A promotional video explaining BlockPooling.
Fast forward to 2015 and a world of one-click ordering and next day delivery makes sharing even less common. Nesta has research found that only 15 per cent of people surveyed in the UK had either borrowed or lent something in the past year. The founders of BlockPooling hope that the internet can now be used to bring sharing back to urban communities and help recreate these social bonds.
An added benefit of better connected neighbours could be a more sustainable Singapore. The government of the city state is trying to address environmental challenges with its “Smart Nation” strategy, which includes using the Internet of Things to make more efficient use of resources.
Another way to do this could be connecting citizens so that they can share their belongings, rather than buy things they never use: cars, which are parked for around 96 per cent of their lives; power tools; gardening equipment.
City governments have an important role to play in changing cultures and promoting access to assets when people need them as an alternative to ownership. Cities across the world are experimenting with ways to support this. Seoul, for example, has set up the Sharing City Seoul initiative which has supported over 50 projects. Meanwhile, “Amsterdam Sharing City” is designed to help coordinate, promote and scale the wide range of initiatives that are already taking place city.
Peter Baeck is a principal researcher and Tom Saunders a senior researcher at Nesta, the UK innovation charity. They are the authors of the "Rethinking smart cities from the ground up" report.