Guidelines for policy makers on socioeconomic larger impact on urban economies

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In this post  we summarize the results from the work carried out in the Deliverable 3.4 called “Guidelines for policy makers on socioeconomic larger impact on urban economies”. That deliverable, that can be found here, analyses the state of the art, develop policy recommendations, and discuss possible scenarios of urban governance of the platform economy in the 7 cities investigated by Plus: Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna, Lisbon, London, Paris, and Tallinn. The analysis aims to identify the contextual conditions and independent variables that enabled innovative urban governance policies and to explore possible paths for their dissemination and adaptation in other urban contexts.

The goal of thew Deliverable is not just to investigate the direct regulation of the four platforms researched by PLUS (Airbnb, Deliveroo, Helpling, Uber), and the regulation of labour conditions under these platforms. Rather, the main interest is to explore how urban policy areas may directly impact the reference industries for these four platforms (i.e., tourism, delivery, transportation, cleaning services etc.), and how cross-cutting urban policies may promote virtuous digital innovation and transformation processes (e.g., data management policies, open access policies, open innovation initiatives, etc.).

The methodology and the analysis of the report are structured around three interrelated macro-variables:

  1. Regulatory Frameworks: the regulatory powers which fall on cities through which regulate, with a direct and indirect cogency, the lean sectoral platforms activities
  2. Urban Public sphere: the modalities through which non-institutional actors or stakeholders are included in the urban political spaces, bringing out their capacities for improve the public debate and negotiation over the regulation and use of service platforms in the city
  3. Urban Technological Agency: this variable expresses the room of manoeuvre of municipal authority and the broader local society to propose their own digital and transformation strategy, as well as their capacities to address technological choices together with political objectives.

In order to offer an exhaustive outline of the specific state of the art of each city, the report proposes a profiling of their urban governance of digital ecosystem following the abovementioned multi-variable structure. The joint analysis of these variables identifies what could be called as the actual “rooms for manoeuvre” for the governance of urban digital ecosystem in each of the cities studied. What emerges is the high degree of difference between the seven cities investigated. The peculiar status of each city results in a variety of supra-municipal, municipal, and infra-municipal political and administrative arrangements, with different capacity to intervene in public and political decision-making processes on sectoral platforms activity in the urban space. Once identified the context of each city, the report provides example, case studies and best practices aimed to face or mitigate the negative impact of platform economy in the urban context, even proposing alternative to lean sectoral and unicorn platform model.

The main findings and recommendations of the report can be sum-up following the three macro-variable structure (regulatory framework, urban public sphere and urban technological agency) and should be interpreted jointly to the seven case studies we identified.

Regarding the regulatory framework, urban contexts where administrative decentralization has gone further are those where urban authorities have the greatest room for manoeuvre. Nevertheless, although some cities (i.e., London and Berlin) hold a wider political and administrative range of competences, the authority on labour and taxation is shared with national and federal institutions. This hierarchy limits the range of possibility for municipal authority to intervene in the sectors affected by platform economy. From this point of view, an active trans-scalar collaboration involving the different levels of government seems to be a precondition for implementing strategies to regulate or mitigate the impacts of lean sectoral platforms. Nevertheless – and in some way counter-intuitively – cities may exercise a soft power, as in the case of Bologna’s promotion of a regulatory framework – the so-called “Chart of digital workers’ rights in the urban context” – to which urban actors of the platform economy can voluntarily adhere. Since the entrenchment of digital platforms may generate conflicts between groups of inhabitants with different interests, a recommendation stemming up from this report is to consider the role of infra-municipal institutions to offer a bottom-up understanding of the local impact of platform economy. Regarding the policy areas investigated in this report, some findings and recommendations for Tourism sector concern the necessity to consolidate patterns of regulation of short-term rental. If the cities studied in Plus have taken some measures to limits the negative effects of Airbnb by introducing specific initiative and norms (e.g., a licensing system and other measures aimed to limit the concentration of listing), what emerged from our study is the difficulty to enforce some of these norms. Regarding Mobility and passenger transport platforms, cities could explore the possibility to regulate them at a higher level within the framework of the planning of the urban public transport system. The creation and implementation of integrated system such as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) must be understood from this perspective. A cross-cutting recommendation between Tourism and Mobility policy areas concern the production, use and transmission of data between lean sectoral platforms and Municipal authority. Between the most relevant risk there is the way in which personal data is stored and managed across platforms: from this point of view, this process should be under the responsibility of the urban public authority which should take the role of controller and draw accurately the relationship with third parties entrusted with data processing functions.

Regarding the urban public sphere, the main recommendation emerging from this report is the need to broadening the urban governance to non-institutional actors in order to make the public sphere more inclusive. Integrating platform-related issues in structured (top-down) democratic innovations can enable the creation of bottom-up alternatives to Unicorn platforms, for example, through the Participatory budgeting tool. It is the case, for example, of platform cooperatives such as “Consegne Etiche” in Bologna and “Resto.Paris” in Paris. Likewise, the mobilization of groups of inhabitants to setup commoning and/or mutualistic settings emerged as catalyst of creation of alternative from below, such as Fairmondo in Berlin and Taxiapp in London. Furthermore, the cases of DECODE app in Barcelona and the digital strategy of Berlin show up the relevance to open the public debate on the same digital transformation strategies pursued by the cities. Thus, municipal authority, with a democratic governance approach and broadening the participation channels, may play a supportive role by providing incentives and dedicated funding opportunities.

Finally, related to the urban technology agency variable, a remarkable recommendation regards the topic of the technological sovereignty of cities and the investment in open technological infrastructure that enable the creation of alternative to lean sectoral and unicorn platforms The incorporation of principle of collaboration and cooperation between urban stakeholders in the code these infrastructures is pivotal to guarantee a real enabling process. The two key principles here recommended are the use of the FLOS approach and technological sovereignty. As regard to the former, the cases of the digital ecosystems of Berlin, Barcelona and Tallinn reveal the consistency in adopting such principles. Anyway, our analysis confirms that an open technological data and artifacts approach per se is not enough to guarantee a public value generation in urban digital ecosystem. Thus, it is recommended to consider the shaping and consolidation of “open governmentstrategies in relation to the “technological sovereignty” of cities. In this regard, already existing experiences of forms of data commoning represents a promising path, although it is still experimental in practice. Even in this case the issue of data management seems to have a decisive relevance, particularly the management of personal data and the intellectual property of the knowledge produced by the inhabitants, organizations and institutions insisting in the urban space. An important element observable in the report is the discrepancies related to the levels of digital literacy and collaborative culture of the inhabitants, which affect the concrete development and implementation of digital services: where digital literacy and skills are higher, as in the case of Berlin, Barcelona, and Paris, achieving this objective is greater, also depending on the extensive dissemination of digital skills and collaborative culture in the population. Thus, digital literacy represents a crosscutting enabling factor. A further recommendation proposed by this report focuses on the means to promote and regulate an open digital economy in order to incentivize the creation of public value.


For the full version of the Deliverable, please go here.


Photo by Paolo Syiaco on Unsplash

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