Why The Sharing Economy Is Taking Off In Seoul

So-called "sharing economy" companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb have run into regulatory problems in the U.S., where cities are slow to embrace them. In Seoul, South Korea, the government is welcoming the sharing economy with open arms.

The Korean capital of Seoul has emerged as a hotbed of design, fashion, and technology in recent years. But the city is also eager to turn itself into a large-scale experiment for the sharing economy, primarily through a municipal initiative called Sharing City that was created this past fall.

While sharing economy startups like Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber are running into regulatory trouble in U.S. markets like Los Angeles (where ride-sharing apps Lyft and Uber were issued cease-and-desists) and New York (where one AirBnb host received a $2,400 fine), Seoul presents an example of a city giving an official embrace to the sharing landscape. The city is betting that some of its problems—like overpopulation and shortages in housing and parking coupled with extreme density (10 million people sharing 234 square miles)—can be addressed by sharing-oriented business concepts, with limited expense to the city.

As Shareable reports, the new initiative includes the following agenda items:

Among the actions the city is taking are: vetting and designating sharing nonprofits and corporations to help increase user trust; promoting sharing enterprises; publicizing Seoul’s brand as the Sharing City; subsidizing the expenses of 10 sharing enterprises with 250 million won (U.S. $240,000, EUR 180,000); incubating approximately 20 sharing startups with office space, consultation, and subsidies; creating a Seoul Sharing Promotion Committee made up of representatives from a variety of sectors including academic, legal, press, welfare, transportation and more; and creating an international Sharing City Conference.

City-supported startups include two companies that enable people to lend each other goods, a car sharing service, a children’s clothing exchange, a meal-sharing site, and "a company that distributes donated suits to young job seekers," Shareable notes. In addition to supporting the private sector, the city will launch some of its own sharing-oriented services, including a vehicle sharing program, a program to let the public take advantage of government buildings when they’re not in use, and a platform that lets seniors with spare rooms find students to rent them (which sounds like an odd match, at least in the context of binge-drinking American college students).

Seoul is perhaps uniquely positioned to take advantage of the problem-solving potential of sharing solutions, given its status as one of the biggest, densest, and most digitally connected cities on earth (60% of Koreans own a smartphone). According to Kim Tae Kyoon, director of Seoul’s Social Innovation Division, the initiative could help citizens regain some of the community that rapid urbanization has lost. "The ultimate goal of Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Sharing City is to share lives among dispersed people, recover trust and relationships, and shape a warm city in terms of people’s heart," he told Shareable.

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  • GetMyBoat

    I am excited to hear about this! Hopefully boat sharing will be the next big thing in Seoul! :D

  • Idesignpeaches

    Traditional Korean culture has various elements of sharing and hand-downs, much more than Western culture. So Koreans may be more receptive to such innovations.

  • Hugh Roberts IV

    Incredible culture that is being developed and fostered in SK... I wonder what it will look like a few years down the road.

  • laughtiger

    Ummm... for starters, Uber and Lyft are not even remotely "sharing economy" companies, just taxi/limo dispatchers...

    AirBnB is also part of the "rental" economy... no sharing involved....

    The sharing economy is a great idea. We should not let sharewashers hijack the name.

  • laughtiger

    It is not a question of whether the drivers are "professional". They are driving for hire and are dispatched using the same smartphone technology used for taxis. Lyft is not a ridesharing service by even the loosest of definitions.

    If every transaction that involves a smartphone app gets called the "sharing economy" then an important and challenging concept becomes meaningless.

  • Ariel Schwartz

    Lyft is hardly a taxi dispatcher. There are no professional drivers involved.

  • Cedricj

    How can we possibly share when we worked so hard for what we have? Won't that create a nation of people sponging off each other? And then what big government program will we need to make it happen?

    And so goes the litany of woe from an ego centered society where independence trumps interdependence