Smarter Cities

Seoul Aims To Be World Capital Of The Sharing Economy

For the last several years, South Korea's capital has made the sharing economy a priority, funding a citywide initiative that has enabled dozens of startups to emerge. But they are still struggling to export.

A traditional Korean room available on the Kozaza home sharing site
A traditional Korean room available on the Kozaza home sharing site
Benoît Georges

SEOUL — What if the sharing economy could make cities of tomorrow more sober, more human and more sustainable? The idea may seem naive, but one of the largest cities on the planet is experimenting with it: Seoul.

With 10 million residents in the city proper, and almost 25 million in its entire urban area, the South Korean capital is the world's third largest megacity, after Tokyo and Mexico City. Since 2012, it has also been the first city to claim the Sharing City title: a new model in which local authorities are developing and encouraging large-scale collaborative initiatives, whether directly or via partnerships with NGOs or private companies.

In Seoul, the sharing concept extends to all manner of living: borrowing toys, tools or camping equipment, renting municipal halls for family celebrations, and even arranging time shares for parking spots. The collective initiative has also enabled more than 100 startups to emerge. They offer gastronomic parties (ZipBob), rooms in traditional houses (Kozaza) or suits and ties to rent (OpenCloset).

Originally, one man was behind this citywide program: Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul since October of 2011. With a past as a human rights activist in the 1970s, the lawyer and London School of Economics alumnus was elected mayor to everyone's surprise, with no official affiliation but relying on crucial support from the Democratic Party. As public data was becoming ever more accessible and public transport expanded, Mayor Park made the sharing economy one of his priorities.

"It's seen as a way to respond, at least partly, to different problems," explains Seonae Kwon, who heads the city government's team in charge of the program. "Seoul has become a very large urban area in a relatively short period of time. This has led to high levels of pollution and resource depletion. After fter the 2008 economic crisis, life also became very expensive, especially for young adults."

Growing the ecosystem

Beyond a public campaign touting the virtues of sharing, and the creation of an annual conference on the topic, the city has established sharing centers and has a program to encourage elderly people to live with young adults. A law promoting sharing has been passed to provide a legal framework, infrastructure and financial support for companies working in this field.

Creative Commons Korea, an NGO that emerged from the promotion of open source content, is being charged with the most visible aspect of the program: development of the website ShareHub, which tracks all such initiatives, for-profit or otherwise.

"We have many different roles," explains ShareHub executive Nanshil Kwon. "We connect startups and the general public, but we also spread positive developments and let the ecosystem grow."

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Downtown Seoul — Photo: Mariosp

Funded annual by the city to the tune of 70 million won (about $60,000), ShareHub also provides training sessions to startup founders. "Since last year, we've also had a collaborative entrepreneurship program for young students," Nanshil says.

ShareHub has 120 companies listed, more than half of which the city has officially approved, which gives them access to more financing. "For now, the platform is only open to Korean companies," Seonae explains. "They can be for profit or not, but they have to provide a service to the general public. On the other hand, foreign platforms such as Uber or Airbnb operate in Korea in a gray area: We still need to establish precise rules for their activity." Last year, local authorities prohibited the low-cost service UberX, under pressure from taxi companies.

Meanwhile, the Seoul Sharing City startups are struggling to export. "The language barrier and the small size of our market are such that our companies have trouble spreading their services to other countries," Nanshil says.

To open up internationally, the city has recently created a consulting group that includes Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia and Shareable's Neal Gorenflo. Another major challenge will be to make Seoul Sharing City more visible on a local level. According to a survey published last year by economic daily Maeil Kyongje, fewer than two in 10 Seoul residents say they know what the sharing economy is.

Gorenflo, who describes the Seoul effort as "unique through its size and the commitment of local authorities," acknowledges that publicizing such a project in a city with 10 million inhabitants is bound to take time. It means spreading the message that a city is not just a place of consumption, but also of collaboration.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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