Liz Elam, Entrepreneur and Curator of Link Coworking and Executive Producer of the Global Coworking Unconference Conference This month...
During most of 19th century, the performance and quality of our cities were measured by the development of conventional infrastructure; including roads, railways, bridges, industrial production and other physical facilities. During the recent decades a new trend has emerged; shifting the attention towards other factors, such as the ability of a city to provide knowledge communication and social infrastructure.
The idea of a smart city was on the rise, a city based on 6 fundamental axis: smart economy, smart mobility, smart environment, smart people, smart living, and, finally, smart governance. The new, smart cities are places of social and environmental sustainability, urban conglomerates able to sustain and grow their human and social capital. To calculate the performances of smart cities, traditional numbers metrics as per capita income or GDP per capita are flanked by other important factors such as the quality of life, the grade of social inclusion of the urban residents in public services and the participation of citizens in the governance of the city itself.
Smart citizens are those whose community “has learned to learn, adapt and innovate”, those who not only actively participate in the political life but also in the design of the city landscape itself.
Coworking spaces do not only give freelancers a place to stay and work. With their ability to create an ecosystem that constantly grows and allows people to connect with each others,Coworking spaces are key players in the creation of smart cities.
This is not only true for the people who use it, but also for the whole urban community. Alongside with telecommuting growing trends, coworking allows people to work closer to their homes. It shortens our commuting times, thus enabling us to produce less carbon emissions.Having fewer cars driving our cities not only means cleaner air: but also makes for a more peaceful living environment; with less acoustic pollution, and safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists.
Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our economy. In the United States alone, they produce 39% of the GDP, pay more than 45% of all the private payrolls and are responsible of 75% of the new jobs: their growth is essential to develop an economically sustainable urban ecosystem.
Firstly, coworking spaces can help SMB strive by supplying them with an unmatched office space offer: it’s cheaper and can be rented under more flexible terms than traditional commercial real estate.
Secondly, Coworking free SMBs owners and manager from some annoying headaches and worries such as paying internet, electricity, phone and heating bills, while it helps them to cover some of the upfront costs that you have to face when setting up an office, such as furniture, electric and network infrastructure.
Essentially, if you chose to base your small business in a coworking space, you will become leaner and more agile. If that’s not enough incentive to motivate you to join, consider that coworking spaces are an excellent place to meet new clients.
Consider an accountant building new relationships in a coworking space filled with technology startups, an independent web developer joining a project, or a social marketer helping build campaigns for small businesses within the coworking space- they all have an opportunity to instantly get in touch with lots of potential new customers.
One of the axioms of the Smart City is “Innovation“, and aside from existing businesses, coworkings are an excellent place for those who wants to start new companies or grow a startup.
A community for innovators
By joining a coworking space, an entrepreneur is not just renting a desk. He’s joining a vibrant community (hopefully) of like minded people: a great place to brainstorm, pitch and receive feedback on new ideas or, even better, find new business partnerships or the so-long-sought co-founder for a fresh project. See: The Creation of a Start-up from Coworking
Better than incubators
As stated by Venture Beat, joining a coworking space might be better than joining an incubator.
Coworking have a more flexible offer, striped out of all the bells and whistles that usually come with an incubation program, with the advantage that you can mantain full control over your product. Moreover, you can grow at your own pace, without the need of meeting benchmarks and without beign forced to be “apprenticed to someone else’s vision”.
Knowledge communication, or else the ability of passing information from one person to another, is the most crucial factor driving innovation. By working closely with others, people get exposed to “accidental learnings“: an “accelerated educational serendipity“, as defined by Alex Hillman, that is fostered by the informal and discussion-oriented format of the coworking space. Moreover, coworking spaces usually organize tons of educational events coupled with hands-on workshops about almost anything, from design to photography, from electronic assembly to sewing.
In the various definitions of Smart City, “social inclusion” is an expression that pops up often. I personally believe that a urban community becomes smart when it gets to the point to understand that there’s no true innovation and no real growth if too many persons are left behind along the process. I love the idea of the coworking space as a hub for freelancers and independent workers, where they can organize and help each other.
I’d like to close this with an interesting interview of Tony Bacigalupo from New Work City, about crisis time and coworking spaces.
Photo Credits: Spooky [http://www.flickr.com/photos/spo0ky] Gedankensprudler [http://www.flickr.com/photos/beatriceamberg]