Placemaking for ‘urbanpreneurs’

Sharing economy is critical, authors say

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Cities have always been the central location for sharing goods, services and ideas. With the freedom of the global economy, urban centers are returning as the nexus for innovation. Many communities are finding startups leaving suburban locations and gravitating to energized urban centers. It’s an opportunity Northeast Indiana should recognize.

In the new book “The Emergence of the Urban Entrepreneur,” Boyd Cohen and Pablo Munoz carefully analyze the impact “urbanpreneurs” have on local economies. They are not only redefining the modern culture of innovation but tackling some of our most pressing civic challenges in the process.

As Cohen noted in a recent interview, “Entrepreneurs can live anywhere in the world and focus on any industry.Urbanpreneurs embed in their socio-ecological environments – cities and towns – to draw influence. They’re tapping into what cities have to offer so they can collaborate and innovate in their community.” But who are these “urbanpreneurs” and what industries do they serve? Cohen defines three distinct types:

Makers: These are the artisans selling their products locally and on global platforms.

Digital Indie: These are the creatives working from home or co-working spaces, usually using technology as the core business function (e.g., web designers, e-commerce).

On-Demand or Gig Economy: These are independent contractors providing products and services direct to consumers, describing innovators ranging from Uber drivers to lawyers.

The “sharing economy” is critical to the existence of urbanpreneurs. “The density of urban spaces,” as Cohen states, “combined with more mobile and web access, helps real-time sharing with peers.” The proximity these innovators have to an active urban core (and other innovators) has a profound impact on cities and the entrepreneurship they inspire. As these networks continue to grow, a city’s future will be largely measured by its ability to encourage sharing (no matter how informal).

Currently, Fort Wayne’s greater downtown area has a larger number of jobs than residents (a ratio of 1.18 jobs/resident), but only three percent of its residents who hold jobs also work in this same area. There is little interaction between those who live in the area versus those who work downtown. They likely pass each other on their commutes, but with a shortage of retailers and service providers the opportunity for interaction and sharing is limited. However, the city’s ability to reverse this trend is hopeful.

With a growing urban core and low-cost of living, Northeast Indiana is well positioned to serve as a destination for future urbanpreneurs. A forthcoming economic impact report from Arts United found that of the nearly 19,000 regional workers engaged in creative work, half work in traditional jobs and half as self-employed or “1099” contractors. Any one of these thousands of workers has the potential to grow a business and create additional jobs. To maximize this potential, our region will need to embrace a sharing economy and leverage our urban villages as hotspots for innovation and cooperative business models.

Good places don’t just promote interaction; they rely on our willingness to share.

First appeared in the January 2017 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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