How Sharing and Openness Can Reduce Environmental Impacts

Today, many more people feel overwhelmed and become paralyzed by the scale of the problems facing humanity. Especially, humanity is thrown in to environmental crisis. Natural resources and spaces decrease worldwide dramatically and climate change caused by global warming becomes a reality to endanger the survival of humanity. These environmental issues are mainly caused by human’s extensive activities such as mass-production, mass-consumption, and mass-disposal, and comfortable livings in suburbs with automobile-dependency etc. These activities put a significant strain on the Earth’s environment more than ever before.

One of the biggest problems in terms of the issues would be low operation rates in resources and spaces in this globe. First of all, an example in terms of the resources’ low operation rate is that each family owns furniture like a couch, electronics like a laundry machine and vehicles like personal as a typical modern lifestyle. In case of having a single life, these goods are all utilized only by individuals. Since they are used by only a very few people, they often do not fill the primary function for long hours. These low operation rates are really a problem because wasting resources and spaces is greatly harmful on the Earth’s ecosystem.

Similarly, nowadays, by sprawling, only a few people tend to settle in a big space, building personal structures so the big space is also utilized by only the limited residents. While residents go out of his or her house, the spece itself does not produce any outputs any longer even though it is capable to be utilized in many ways.  People invade hinterlands and develop the lands to raise the operation rate for themselves. However, the hinterlands themselves work to support the ecological system. Timothy Beatley (2000) states in his article, Preserving Biodiversity Challenges for Planners, that “While there are many types of threats to biodiversity in this country, destruction of habitat has become the most significant.” (p. 6). He clearly pointed out the relationship that people undermine habitats for numbers of species that support its biodiversity. That is, it is human themselves that undermine the operation rates of the lands aggressively.

Moreover, bedroom suburbs can be at low operation rates in a scale of town. People go out of their suburbs to go to work on weekday afternoons all together and to go back there only to go to bed all together. This means that the town functions only as a bed for people. While residents go out their habitats, the suburbs themselves do not work even though they have unlimited potential to produce values environmentally, economically, and socially. These facts indicate that people undermine the values that resources and spaces originally have.

These low operation rates are derived from the fact that these resources and spaces are just personalized individually, not opened and shared. Today, many more people attempt to personalize anything to generate their own profits. Tridib Banerjee (2001) states in his article, The Future of Public Space Beyond Invented Streets and Reinvented Places, that “[T]he decline of the public realm is paralleled by a corresponding decline in the public spirit, which resides in the very core of our collective intuitions of civil society (p. 12 ).” This means that the more people loose their public spirit, the more public realm is threaten by personal interests. Similarly, natural resources and spaces can be threaten by the personal interests.

However, imagine what it would be like if these personal goods and spaces are opened and shared with others. Then, how big it has effects on the environment? Not only these operation rates are raised, but also resources and spaces are required less. Moreover, the much more people share them, the more these operation rates are improved and the less resources or spaces are required.

To make this stream become reality, Robin Chase, founder and former CEO of Zipcar, introduces car sharing, bed sharing, and bike sharing at her seminar. She establishes GoLoco to seek for a further new way to share something. GoLoco is a social networking service online that helps people and communities create their own personal public transportation network. The service aims at enabling people to do these practices at pier to pier, not utilizing professional services by public or private organization. These are all good practices that improve operation rates of each material and that keep the resources to a minimum.

Chase also indicates that a dynamics of these practices is not only in collaborative consumption but also in collaborative play, collaborative work, collaborative financing. By gathering people, its human diversity and consensus base decision making makes them possible and more fun. Philip R. Berke (2002) mentions in his journal, Journal of Planning Literature 2002, that “[T]he defining question in the planning field: How can the quality of human life be improved in local communities in the context of global environmental, social, and economic systems? The procedural approach emphasizes diversity, openness, and consensus building but is not equipped to plan for, and implement, a shared civic vision in local planning arenas dominated by fragmentation and conflict (p. 22).” He implies that an openness with human diversity as a community is the key to improve the quality of human life.

To illustrate the mechanism of how sharing and openness based on collective decision makings as a community play a critical role in overcoming the environmental crisis, “collective housing” should be raised as an example. The collective housing is a house in which residents share a part of their lifestyles as a community based on participatory decision making.  Usually, each of residents has a private room as well as the common spaces designed based on the common needs from the residents.  There are usually some people in the common spaces such as a common living and dining room, and residents can join social life at the spaces with other residents anytime.  At the same time, they can be in their own room anytime they want.  This type of lifestyle was invented in North Europe, and expands to the world. Today, it is known as “co-Housing” in the Unites States.

This way of life makes a scale of community that people live in go one stage wider. Currently, living in a house at a scale of family is a norm. However, in case of the collective house, families belong to the community and live with other families and other individuals in the same building or spaces as a community. This means that a lifestyle based on a scale of family is shifted to that of a scale of a bigger community. What is the benefit of the way to live?

First, this way of life encourages resources and spaces to be minimized to use and to be improved their operation rates. A kitchen, a living room, a garden, a terrace, a workshop and so on are not necessarily owned by each family or individual. By sharing these spaces with other families or individuals as a community, people can save spaces. Not only that, they can improve the operation rates of these spaces because many more people possibly access to these spaces by sharing them. Similarly, if electronics in the shared kitchen, furniture in the shared living room, industrial tools in the workshop, automobiles in the parking and so on are all shared in the community, each family or individual do not need to own them any longer. As a result, significant amounts of resources would be able to be saved and each material in the shared spaces can be improved in the operation rates.

Secondly, possibility or power as a community can be raised. The collective housing become a community in which diverse generations, diverse occupations exist. By sharing skills and knowledge among the residents, they often come up with fresh ideas that they have never imagined ever before. Interactions among them accelerate the cycle. This might enable the community to become a zero-emission community by eliminating the waste of resources and spaces and by co-financing for facilities to generate renewal energy sources such as solar and wind. Also, they might be able to establish a self-sufficient life by shared farms in the community would be possible. These examples clearly demonstrate the possibility or power of a community because things, which never be done by a single family or an individual, are possibly done by a community.

Moreover, in a community, some needs among the members could be concerted in a favorable manner. For example, one of core characteristics of the collective housing is an opportunity of “common meal”. The residents prepare their meal on the rotation basis. This opportunity helps the residents to save time because if they participate to prepare a meal for the community members only several times a month, they can decrease the number of meal to prepare several times a week. Also, for instance, if there are both a two-income young couple with their children and an elderly couple, who already did their duty of parental care and wishes to nurture children again, the needs between the two couples are possibly met.

Finally, in the collective housing, residents straddle both private spaces and common ones at a very finely sense of distance. This often provides favorable opportunities among residents to collaborate not only in consumption but also in play, work, and financing together. Tridib Banerjee (2001) shows how privatized public places such as the arcades of Paris and Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica generate new possibilities in addition to just consumption. He states that “In all of these cases, the attempt is to create a public life of flânerie [, the activity of strolling and looking (Tester, 1994, p.1)] and consumerism; whether it actually takes place in a private or public space does not seem to matter. The line between public and private spaces blurs very easily, as was the case in the Prisian arcades (p. 15).” If it is difficult for people to utilize public open spaces, they need to create such a privatized public place to cover the lack of public spaces positively.

These points are all key practices of sharing and openness to diminish environmental impacts on the Earth. By improving operation rates of resources and spaces and cutting down the demands of them, people can have direct effects on environment because of its energy-efficiency, resource-saving, carbon-emission reduction, and nature protection. Also, a community in which diverse human exists creates a new center of culture to help people to generate wisdom to invent a new way of life that is more suited for both them and nature.

Moreover, if more human resources are utilized by concerted needs among people forming a small or micro scale community, people can prevent to utilize environmentally-unfriendly commercial services. Finally, personalized open spaces enable people to straddle both private and open spaces freely and to revitalize their various collaborative activities without invading hinterlands further.

The collective housing is the world’s epitome. All practices used in the community can be put to practical use in wide range of communities. A neighborhood, a city, a state, a nation, and even the Earth can be all considered as a community. Actually, some of the practices are used in these communities traditionally. For example, a city plans to save spaces and build up roads, parks, and public structures such as the library and a stadium funded by taxes from citizens. Another example is that people have public services in case that some needs among citizens are met sharing resources and spaces. Therefore, practices utilized in the collective house are possible to be also utilized by such a bigger scale of the communities. Of course, at a micro scale such as among families, friends, neighbors, even among unrelated people, unexpected significant positive effects on environment can be expected by practicing them.

The key to activization of these practices is that people overcome tendencies of personalizing resources and spaces and willingly open and share them. Today, many more people become obsessed by “money” so that they attempt to personalize anything to monopolize their own profits. Even any services are all commercialized and people buy them passively. As a result, resources, spaces, and even human themselves operate or work at a crucially low rate. However, imagine if what it would be like if people can actively try to create opportunities comparable commercial services in their own ways, sharing their resources and spaces. Then, how dramatically does it improve our Earth’s environmental condition? Now is the time to stand up and take action for making the vision into a reality.

Banerjee, T. (2001). “The Future of Public Space Beyond Invented Streets and Reinvented Places.” Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 67, No.1, Winter 2001.
Beatley, T. (2000). “Preserving Biodiversity Challenges for Planners.” Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 66, No.1, Winter 2000.
Berke, P. R. (2002). “Does Sustainable Development Offer a New Direction for Planning? Challenges for the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of Planning Literature 2002; 17; 21.
Koyabe, I. (2004). コレクティブハウジングで暮らそう 成熟社会のライフスタイルと住まいの選択.
Tester, K. (1994). The Flâneur.