Spaces for Sharing: Micro Units Amid the Shift from Ownership to Access
31 Pages Posted: 22 Oct 2015 Last revised: 26 Jul 2018
Date Written: 2016
This article, written for the Fordham Urban Law Journal’s symposium entitled Sharing Economy, Sharing City: Urban Law and the New Economy, explores the interaction between the sharing or peer-to-peer economy and new forms of housing, particularly micro-units. Certain components of the sharing economy, such as car sharing and co-working, rely on sufficient demand, typically produced by residents within close proximity to an asset-hub. Trade in the idle capacity of privately-owned goods frequently depends upon potential users sufficiently nearby to render sharing convenient. Land use regulations that permit development of micro-units may increase density to levels that better support a sharing economy infrastructure. The sharing economy is also frequently invoked to explain consumer demand for such units – as potential residents choose to forego space and rely on shared resources. Developers have sought to make micro-units more attractive to potential residents by providing access, sometimes on-site, to car and bicycle sharing. Such resources also may ease worries of neighbors concerned about increased density and some local governments have begun to consider the provision of sharing economy infrastructure in the land use approval process. In addition, certain new forms of residential development more expressly incorporate a culture of sharing and at times explicitly identify as a component of the sharing economy.
This article sketches out some of the theoretical and practical implications of the relationship between micro-units and housing more generally and the sharing economy. Even as many micro-unit residents embrace the sharing economy to complement their small living spaces, these units provide residents with an alternative to perhaps the simplest form of contemporary property sharing – living with roommates. They represent a turn away from certain informal sharing of property (kitchen items and food, living room furniture, music and book collections) towards more formal sharing through the peer-to-peer economy. The new exchanges of personal property facilitated by the sharing economy thereby simultaneously enable the increased privatization of an individual’s residence.
As the sharing economy reshapes cities it is also changing the types of housing demanded by urban residents. This article suggests that as cities revise existing regulations to respond to both the growing demand for micro-units and the expanding role of the sharing economy in urban areas, they should more carefully consider the potential synergies between these phenomena.
Keywords: sharing economy, peer-to-peer economy, micro-units, land use, local government, housing, urban policy, property, zoning, urban planning
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