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Sharing cities and citizens sharing: Perceptions and practices in Milan

Sharing has become a global phenomenon; business models, social innovations and technological developments enable an escalated number of uses for a given asset, resulting in reshaped urban dynamics, practices and morphologies.

This paper is exploring diverse aspects of sharing economy as part of the urban fabric, through participatory activities with citizens and stakeholders. It investigates the co-construction of society and technology with respect to the implementation of sharing-based strategies in urban practices.

Salvia and Morello highlight diverse aspects of sharing economy which were identified through activities within the city of Milan. These aspects include, but are not limited to, the extend of familiarity and the perception of such platforms by the citizens, the adequate spatial scale and the extend that the digital component occupies within the structure of the platforms. That way they argument how elements characterising the contemporary ways of sharing are or may be rearranged by citizens of the analysed context.

As a result, the authors produced the concept of a hybrid online-offline platform, through which multiple city users may liaise by sharing their assets for the achievement of a common goal. The concept attempts to provide space for the coexistence of both ‘˜bottom up’ and centralised initiatives, generated typically by citizens, local associations, municipalities and business.


The research is designed as a multiple step process. The answers provided are inferred from a set of qualitative research activities, which involved citizens and other key actors of urban practices based on sharing. It was carried out between 2016 and 2018 in a fast-developing area of Milan.

Scheme of the participatory process (resource: current paper)


Sharing may support cities to address contemporary challenges of natural resource depletion namely caused by global urbanization. It relies on peer-to-peer relationships rather than existing market actors to mediate exchanges, typically through the ubiquitous Internet and possibly through platforms for matchmaking. In fact, it is not the practice of sharing on its own to be new, but rather an enabler or characterising element of novel or normalised practices and ways of doing, which no longer rely on previously formed relationships with sharers.

Initiatives based on sharing, though, may evolve along alternative routes with respect to the ideal ones envisaged by their developers or the optimistic researchers. According to this research, envisaging how the phenomenon may develop in order to limit unintended negative consequences requires, first, to understand how sharing and collaborative practices are performed, and second what makes them attractive to their participants.

In 2014, the municipality of Milan undertook the path towards a ‘˜sharing city’ . The city hosts the country wide highest number of co-working businesses and headquarters of collaborative platforms.  The urban daily practices investigated within this project include energy production and savings, food production and transformation, urban mobility, and assets sharing within local communities (e.g. goods, spaces, skills and time).  

Results of the activities

As resulted by the participatory activities with citizens and stakeholders, the authors identify the following points as prominent regarding sharing economy in the context of Milan:

  1. limited knowledge and familiarity with sharing platforms
  2. scepticism towards sharing and mismatch with expectations
  3. a two-fold perception of convenience and time-saving
  4. digital means and online dynamics are either enabling or disabling
  5. smaller scale is preferred for sharing
  6. trust is a key component
  7. the feeling of social debt may result from and impact sharing practices

The program of activities that the authors analyse reveal the ambivalent and conflicted fashion in which the current sharing urban services and practices may be experienced in Milan. The research concludes that the engagement of relevant actors (most notably citizens) in urban sharing implies the negotiation of a multitude of elements, including citizens’ digital literacy, perceived convenience, trust and willingness to be engaged in social interactions. Salvia and Morello notice that diverse ‘“ non-utilitarian ‘“ elements constitute the experience of sharing. These elements operate in synergetic or contrasting ways in practice, rather than in isolation; they are dynamic, evolving across people, locations and time.

Therefore, strategies and programs for the development of urban sharing services in declared or forthcoming sharing cities may increase the chances of effective uptake by building on a deeper understanding of daily routines, habits and meanings involved. Novel elements may be identified for their integration and connection by the citizens to existing ones. Participatory approaches and tools for the development of these strategies appear beneficial to this end.

The results of this study are expected to inform the related disciplines of urban studies, socio-technical studies and sustainable transitions and to influence policies and programmes towards the development of socio-technical innovation based on and for sharing.

Find the article here.