Surviving Austin's rising cost of living with some help from the "sharing economy"
For the past two columns, we've been replying to a letter from Can't Afford To Live Among Digital Yuppies (CATLADY), who is feeling priced out of Austin by the tech boom. This is our last word on the subject.
The word "sharing" has changed radically over the course of our lives. When we were kids, we were taught to share toys and candy. Sharing was supposed to be the opposite of selfishness. Then, with the Internet, sharing became a euphemism for publishing. We could share pictures, share how we were feeling with the world, share an article we liked. "Oversharing" became a code word for narcissism.
Finally, in the "sharing economy," we've monetized sharing. In parts one and two of this series, we went through all the ways you can make or save money by "sharing" (i.e., selling) things to strangers – your spare room, your backseat, your bike, even your leftovers. Don't get us wrong, we enjoy partaking in the many benefits of the new sharing economy. But it also seems like the "sharing is caring" credo we learned in kindergarten has been replaced by something more like "sharing is a way to make a quick buck."
In this final installment of our advice for CATLADY, we're returning to the older definition of sharing: no-money exchanges of goods and services with friends, families, neighbors, and other people we actually know. It's how human beings have survived for millennia without high-rise condos and tech-bubble salaries – by banding together and pitching in. The same technology that makes the capitalist engines of Airbnb and Uber work can also help us share more effectively in the old-fashioned sense.
This isn't pie-in-the-sky idealism. Austin has long been famous for its cooperative communities. It's part of the culture here, part of what attracts so many new people and businesses to Central Texas in the first place. Most of the action is offline, but check AustinCooperatives.coop for a rundown of some of the more established groups, like College Houses (dorm rooms), Wheatsville (food), Black Star (beer), and Ecology Action (recycling).
The current technology boom isn't just making Austin less affordable, it's also threatening to destroy cooperative communities, formal and informal, that took root here in cheaper, bygone days. It's up to all of us – new people and old – to build the next generation of communities that are about people and ideas, not money and conspicuous consumption.
You can start by building your own mini-cooperative community among friends and family. Shop together, splitting bills with Splitwise and paying off IOUs with Venmo. Share household chores and other communal tasks with Fairshare. Organize a carpool with friends, co-workers, or fellow parents – not strangers hustling for money – with GroupCarpool.com.
On a bigger level, get involved with Nextdoor to help organize your neighborhood more affordably and equitably, or with the many local political and social-issue groups on Facebook. Where technology destroys, it can also help us create new sustainable communities in Austin. Stick around, CATLADY, and let's build it together. :) HD