How the Internet is Helping Cities in the Western World to Loosen Up

While cities in the developing world embrace the chaos and risk inherent in their informal landscapes, the Western world excels at regulation. But this dynamic is starting to change, to the dismay of incumbent industries and establishment regulators.
June 26, 2013, 5am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Over the last two decades, the social web has helped facilitate the "de-formalization of every sector of the economy and society [in the developed world], from transportation, to wellness and healthcare, to travel, to journalism, to humanitarian aid, and on and on and on," argues Nick Grossman, “Activist in Residence” at Union Square Ventures and a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab. "In effect, [these platforms] are applying highly formal structures to these 'informal' personal interactions, bridging the gap between the industrial economy and the informal economy." 

"Not surprisingly, we’re seeing this conflict unfold as the new informal economy, operating at web scale, draws the ire of both incumbent industries and establishment regulators whose livelihoods it threatens," he explains. "Sharing rides is illegal. Sharing apartments is illegal. Making person-to-person loans is illegal. Even free online education is illegal. For now."

One might draw parallels with the tactical urbanism movement, and the pushback from local authorities that several projects have received.  

"Slowly but surely, however, jurisdictions are adapting their regulatory positions to recognize and support the new informal economy, powered by the tools of the social web, and recognizing some of the legal precedents that have allowed the web to thrive," Grossman adds. "The challenge will be to continue pursuing the goals of safety, accountability and equity, while simultaneously embracing this return to the informal."

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Published on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 in Next City
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