An alarming trend, already established in the world’s cities, is the digitization and commercialization of basic services. The rapid rise of the gig economy, also called the shared economy –of low demand and collaborative consumption– and its relationship with goods and services, is transforming the metropolitan areas of large cities, but not necessarily for the better.
Countless a la carte offers are proliferating in the world’s capitals, causing drastic changes in the basic sectors of the economy and introducing new needs and comforts. This digitalization goes from transportation, logistics, cleaning services, food and beverage, shopping, care and nursing services to accommodation and personal concierge. Internet has opened a new paradigm, where a specific need can be covered almost instantly through mobile technology. The Network allows us to connect with thousands of people who offer them. And, in this sense, digital platforms (mainly in the form of applications) are sold as facilitators of exchange and make this relationship between peers more responsible.
The consolidation of these platforms in the urban environment makes us consider the type of cities we want in terms of access, rights and urban planning
The growth and popularity of different companies such as Uber, Amazon or Airbnb have changed not only the way of life of the inhabitants –or, rather, consumers– but also the functioning of modern cities, since they have taken off as no one could have foreseen . In the British capital, for example, you can already see the disappearance of physical establishments, bank branches or even the elimination of lockers in most public transport stations. In fact, there are already storefronts on several main streets where the customer is invited to come in and look, and then buy the product online. In addition, many establishments only accept payment digitally, dispensing with cash.
Uber could be, without a doubt, one of the greatest exponents of this type of on-demand economy, with a tremendously aggressive policy in cities. Its most controversial version UberPop has been banned in at least eight countries, including Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey and partially in Italy. In these places, the individuals who provide the service do not require a license to rent a vehicle with a driver.
The growth of companies such as Uber, Amazon or Airbnb have changed not only the way of life of the inhabitants, but also the functioning of modern cities
In fact, the term uberization is also an alternative name to explain this economy-on-demand phenomenon. In London, for example, Uber has already taken control of maritime and road transport, establishing collaborations with other companies, transport companies and districts to introduce electric chargers on the streets. But the most surprising thing is that it is estimated that the annual growth of this company will be 300%, despite the fact that the Uber Papers came to light. In this document, which was released in July, the company’s relationship with different political leaders, the promotion of violence to gain presence in the markets and the blocking of investigations were evidenced.
In the same way, platforms such as Airbnb, which offers private accommodation, do not stop growing. In 2011, the company announced that they had achieved one million reservations. In 2014, they were already talking about getting 11 million. Today, the company is estimated to have reached 37 million bookings a year. The most alarming thing is that these data are only the tip of the iceberg, since the way in which society works, plays, travels and relates will be changed more and more, many times, without taking into account the impact that these models of business they have both in the city and in society.
There are many testimonials from workers of these technology companies who say that, despite appreciating the flexible hours offered to them, they are highly dissatisfied due to low wages, fear for their personal safety and well-being, the feeling of isolation as well as the lack of a viable career path. It is clear that many consumers are not aware of what it means to enjoy this new à la carte convenience.
The way in which society works, plays, travels and relates will be increasingly changed.
In the same way, the phenomenon of ghost supermarkets, known in English as dark stores, is another example of this digitization of basic services in the urban context. These establishments not only damage the image of the city, but also generate many problems in the immediate environment; not only because of the noise, but because of the constant movement of delivery men and daily supply trucks, the increase in waste and residue on the street, among others. They are spaces not open to the public that function as warehouses – or supermarkets behind closed doors – that house nearly 2,000 products, are controlled by different companies such as Getir, Gorillas, Glovo or GoPuff and deliver in less than 15 minutes to any point of the city through its corresponding mobile application. In the cities of Amsterdam.
But what additional measures should local, municipal and state governments take in the face of this surge? Given the rise of this type of platform, it is essential that governments establish a regulation system for these companies, in order to guarantee not only a better coexistence in the city, but also an improvement in wages and conditions for workers, at least , through their recognition as employees. In a certain way, the consolidation of these digital platforms in the urban environment makes us consider the type of cities we want in terms of equity in access to services, labor rights, urban planning and the infrastructure to support this new economy.