The Province: Vancouver is interested in sharing

For Chris Diplock, it started with a chicken coop.

He and his partner, Caitlin Dorward, wanted to raise chickens in their East Vancouver home but lacked the tools to build a coop. Luckily, their landlord had the requisite power drill and table-saw and graciously lent them to the couple.

“We realized our ability to be able to create something like a chicken coop was because we had access to tools, and they were free,” recalled Diplock.

Diplock and Dorward decided to harness the power of sharing. In 2011, they established the Vancouver Tool Library, which lets members borrow tools, from basic wrenches and extension cords to pneumatic staplers and power sanders.

The unconventional library, which currently has 650 members, is one of the best examples of Vancouver’s thriving sharing economy.

Also known as collaborative consumption, the sharing economy is broadly based on the lending, borrowing, renting, swapping, bartering or co-owning of goods, spaces, time and talents.

“What all these activities have in common is that they provide access to things without the need to own them outright,” said Diplock. “A lot of what sharing does is it allows under-utilized gear to be better utilized.”

The notion — which was heralded by Time magazine as one of the “10 Ideas that Will Change the World” — upends our notion of consumer values. It posits that it’s not ownership people want, it’s access.

Sharing itself isn’t new: Think libraries, community centres, co-ops. What’s new is the breadth of what’s being shared, mostly facilitated by websites and mobile apps. Car-shares have become ubiquitous in Vancouver’s downtown core and community gardens dot the landscape.

Popular sites Airbnb and Couchsurfing allow travellers to rent accommodations ranging from a couch to a penthouse directly from homeowners, while TaskRabbit outsources small jobs and errands to freelancers.

But there are also growing pains. Airbnb is battling regulators in New York and Quebec who are investigating whether it is illegal for people to rent out their home without proper permits. TaskRabbit has been accused of undercutting licensed tradespeople. And Vancouver’s bike-share plan, which was supposed to hit the streets early next year, is facing delays after equipment provider Bixi ran into apparent financial difficulties.

This spring, with grants from the City of Vancouver and VanCity, as well as money raised from crowdfunding website Indiegogo, Diplock launched a survey to examine Vancouverites’ attitudes toward sharing, gauge demand and highlight potential opportunities to grow Vancouver’s sharing economy.

According to the survey findings, most people are interested in sharing physical media (books, DVDs), repair and maintenance tools, recreation equipment and transportation.

It found people are willing to share when there is easy access and trust, and when the items being shared are of good quality and durable. A significant percentage also cited building social relationships and decreasing environmental footprint as factors.

The report suggested people want to be able to stay within their neighbourhoods in order to borrow, which indicates that models such as the tool library could be replicated across different communities.

Vancouver is interested in sharing, said Diplock, citing findings that a third of respondents said they are interested in sharing more with their peers, with 26- to 40-year-olds being the most enthusiastic. More than 50 per cent also anticipate their sharing of physical objects and spaces will increase in the next three to five years.

“We will only see sharing grow more,” predicted Diplock. “It’ll be interesting to see what kind of forms that takes, and where it’ll grow more.”

Popular sharing initiatives in Vancouver:

■ Car-share: Arguably the trailblazer of Vancouver’s sharing economy, Modo opened in 1997, the first car-sharing co-op in North America. Today, between Modo, ZipCar and Car2Go, the city has a fleet of more than 700 vehicles.

■ Airbnb: Vancouver has about 800 listings in downtown alone, including a $94/night “Tuscan West End apartment” and $75/night flat with “Edwardian allure” in a century-old building.

■ Book exchanges: Charming, free, these pop-up libraries are as grassroots as they come. No locks, no library cards or overdue fines; simply leave a book or take a book.

■ Work spaces: Co-working spaces, such as HiVE and The Network Hub, allow people to rent desks or meeting spaces, and offer some frills for an office — Wi-Fi, fax line, receptionist — without having to sign a lease.

■ Housing: Vancouver’s first co-housing development on East 33rd Street will break new ground. Members own 31 fully-equipped but compact homes, but will also share extensive facilities, such as a communal dining room, kitchen, laundry room, playroom and bike repair room.

■ Vancouver Trade School: Instructors offer to teach classes (bookkeeping and aquaponics are some of this month’s offerings) in exchange for a wish list of items that are almost free, such as a handshake or constructive criticism.

■ Ride-share: Sites like HitchWhistler or HitchTofino bring together drivers and passengers with virtual outstretched thumbs to the popular ski or surf meccas. The website recommends a $10-$20 contribution “or free, if you need some good karma.”

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