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Five ways to boost Sweden’s sharing economy

How can Sweden ensure that the sharing economy is put to the best use? Mattias Goldmann from liberal-green thinktank Fores shares his five best strategies.

Five ways to boost Sweden's sharing economy
Taxi driver protesting Uber in Brazil this month. Photo: AP Photo/Eraldo Peres

Everything from cars to drilling machines are left unused for the majority of time. Sharing resources is effective, eco-friendly, and can save money both for individuals and society. Here are five suggestions to achieve an optimal sharing economy.

1. Secure the climate's health

Carpooling is often seen as an important part of the sharing economy. An individual car is unsed 23 out of 24 hours per day which is poor usage of resources. But the business model must be right; options such as Car2Go charge per minute, making drivers step on the pedal just to reduce prices. This not only increases exhaust emissions, but also worsens traffic safety.

2. Protect what we've got

After many years' work from legislators, large clients and active consumers, all major taxi companies in Sweden use almost only green cars, which has laid the foundation for making it possible for everyone to refuel on biogas or recharge with electricity. Now, this is challenged by Uber, who's climate standards are next to nothing and green cars far fewer than the taxi industry. When we choose new business solutions we have to protect what we have already achieved.

3. Include a social dimension

The sharing economy is painted as a new social contract where trust is created through collective access. However, the reality is often different. This is shown especially in the prime example of the sharing economy: AirBnB. Many cities now prohibit such a way of sharing housing, because permanent residents are in the minority and no one takes responsibility for the maintenance of the area. There must be a clear social dimension.

4. Learn from experience

The sharing economy is far from new. For example, libraries have been around so long that they must add other services that are further from the idea of sharing in order to stay relevant, and many housing associations are closing their communal utility and hobby rooms. Let us systematically learn from those who have the experience of sharing.

5. Collaborate

Sharing economy examples such as Uber and AirBnB have lead to violent protests, but increased collaboration can solve quite a bit. When the transport industry engages in carpools, they reach customers who would normally never buy their products, and contribute to a decreased environmental impact without government regulation. Let us develop this insight about mutual gain so that the sharing economy becomes less of a challenge.

Shifting to a sharing economy is something big and valuable. Let us design it well.

This article was written by Mattias Goldmann, CEO of green and liberal thinktank Fores and first published by GP. It was translated from Swedish to English by The Local's intern Tilly Olsson.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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