In a shift away from the country’s once hyper-consumptive ways, many Portlanders have been discovering how to participate in a local, and more resourceful, sharing economy. Based on models of collaborative consumption, in which owning becomes less necessary, our innovative and community-minded citizenry has expanded an economy centered around bartering, borrowing and sharing.
Portland has, in many ways, led the charge in what we perceive as a sharing economy. The popularity of car-sharing, for example, has direct ties to Portland. Indeed, before there was Zipcar, there was Car Sharing Portland, the commercial model for what we now know as car-sharing. Created in 1998, Car Sharing Portland was eventually bought out by Flexcar, which, in turn, sold to an even bigger company: Zipcar. And although Zipcar is not a Portland company, there are some very fresh, local takes on collaborative consumption in our city.
Lending and Borrowing Made Easy
As novel and groundbreaking as Zipcar is, and its Portland predecessor was, payment is not always necessary in Portland’s sharing economy. The advent of lending libraries has made it possible for us all to access our inner DIY—free of charge. And we’re not just talking about books here! As more Portlanders seek to participate in a sharing economy, there’s been a significant rise in libraries that make household and garden tools, kitchenware, and many other items available on loan. And the process of borrowing them is as simple as applying for a membership, just as you would at your local library before checking out a book. So for those ambitious enough, the tools needed for your home repairs, garden tending, or even culinary conquests have become easier to access and are often essentially free.
Almost every quadrant of the city boasts some form of lending apparatus, whether it be for power tools or bridal wear. According to Steve Couche, a founding member of the Southeast Portland Tool Library (SEPTL), his program has lent out over 8,000 tools since it opened in May 2010. With a stock of tools totaling more than 1,200, the SEPTL serves some 1,400 people in SE Portland alone. What’s most impressive, however, is that you can access all this for free. And if you live in North or NE Portland, you have similar resources. Lents, too, is getting in on the action with the Green Lents Community Tool Library, anticipated to open this summer.
This model extends beyond tools, though. Need a wedding dress or decor for the big event? Check out Something Borrowed.
Looking for canning equipment for your pickled goods and summertime berries? North Portland’s Preserve and Serve has you covered.
Back in SE Portland, Kitchen Share SE is trying to assemble its own culinary take on collaborative consumption with a collection of kitchen tools to aid in preparing, cooking and preserving food, but organizers are still working to secure a space for their library.
The list goes on. If you need it, someone is probably willing to let you borrow it, although sometimes a small donation is suggested. With a little bit of resourcefulness, you can find a library to help you tackle any household, kitchen or garden project at little or no cost.
In With The Old, Out With The New: The Rise of Swapping
Why buy when you can swap? This thought is natural for Portland swap coordinator and creator of Swappositive, Barbara Hughes, who hosts or facilitates regular clothing, toy, and other gift and goods swaps. Hughes states that “swaps cut out the middleman/men and the benefits go directly to us.” The benefits of swapping, Hughes goes on to say, “allow us to save our hard-earned money for other things” and “keep local items local.”
The goal of Swappositive is to facilitate such swaps, in which a date and location are set and “swappers” bring items they seek to exchange with others. Swappositive helps reduce swappers’ searching by coordinating participant- or need-specific swaps, such as ones for plus-size clothing or holiday gifts. Ideally, one person’s trash becomes another’s treasure.
The same model can be utilized by parents seeking childcare, kids’ clothing and toys, or simply the proverbial “village” to raise each others’ children. Swap n play is a similar concept, in which parents donate toys, clothes and time to benefit the larger community of families that utilize and donate the same services. Swap n play can be found in many Portland neighborhoods, such as St. Johns, East Portland, Woodlawn, and at the Swap Shop in Sunnyside.
In St. Johns, there is a network of 150 families that “swap and play,” so to speak. Dre Davey, director of the St. Johns Swap n Play, speaks to the success of her program, stating, “We are supported by our active members who are asked to contribute a monthly contribution, a co-op job, and two hours of volunteer time towards the nonprofit per year.” By Davey’s estimation, she and her family saved around $2,000 by utilizing swaps and lending libraries during the first year of raising her second child.
Swapping makes use of the edible, too. Across the city, food growers are pairing up with each other to barter their goods. If you grow more blueberries than you can eat, there’s someone out there who’ll trade their surplus of kale, cabbage or eggs. Much like Swappositive does with clothes, the Portland Food Exchange accomplishes something similar with food. By facilitating the trading of fruits, vegetables and other food, the Portland Food Exchange connects a community of growers and reduces the need to purchase food—you can simply swap with other like-minded people.
But what to do if you don’t have your own land to grow on? Or worse yet, you’re not a green thumb?
For every aspiring vegetable gardener, there’s an under-utilized yard somewhere. Yard sharing has given many gardeners access to land, and our communities are becoming more sustainable because of it.
The process is simple: Share your yard, let someone plant crops, and collect fruits and veggies as payment. For the grower, free land to grow on in exchange for a portion of the crops is a sweet deal.
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is another way the conscious consumer can collaboratively tap into the supply of healthy and locally grown food. A CSA is essentially a way for people to invest in a portion of a farm with other community members. By sharing the cost of farm production with other participants, you can share the farm’s yield collectively with the other members. For a share fee, members receive the season’s freshest fruits and vegetables, typically on a weekly basis. To take part in a local CSA, the Portland Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition is a good place to start.
If you’re feeling limited by farm produce, don’t fret. Food buying clubs are another way to tap into Portland’s sharing economy while gaining access to a variety of foods. By partnering with your neighbors, food buying clubs allow groups to buy in bulk and receive discounts in the process. With Know Thy Food, a food buying club housed in The Warehouse in the Brooklyn neighborhood, orders are placed on a regular basis with weekly pickups. No doubt, the discounted rates for buying in bulk are appealing, but so are the benefits of pooling a community’s resources. Portland has food buying clubs galore; here’s a list to get you started.
Just like food buying clubs, CSAs and yard-shares, creative professionals are increasingly using this model in the workplace. Co-working is another example of collaborative consumption, in which desk, office or meeting space is offered at a discounted rate based on a sharing model. By agreeing to a maximum time used in the office, members who don’t have traditional, 40-hour-per-week jobs get reduced rates to access all the perks that would normally come with their own space.
We All Can Benefit
Portland’s sharing economy touches on many facets of our lives. From clothing to food, and cooking utensils to office space, it’s all at our fingertips. Collaborative consumption is alive and well in Portland, and the number of lending libraries, swaps and shares continues to grow. With a little effort, it won’t be long before you’re taking advantage of the local sharing economy, too.
Do you borrow, swap or share resources with your neighbors? Have a model not mentioned in this article? We'd love to hear about it!