Seeking a Sharing Economy to Serve Diversity

  • Green Building Alliance Director Mike Schiller (left) and lecturer with Inspire Speaker Series event Antwi Akom. Photo Courtesy GBA

October 24, 2014

How do we develop a sharing economy that respects the environment and diverse communities? Antwi Akom, an environmental sociologist who spoke in Pittsburgh as part of the Green Building Alliance's Inspire Speakers Series, has some ideas about how to get it right.

Akom is an Associate Professor of Environmental Sociology, Public Health, and STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) Education at San Francisco State University and is a co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational, and Environmental Design (I-SEEED), which focuses on building sustainable cities and schools.

He says it's troublesome when community assets that encourage environmentally beneficial sharing don't serve diverse and low-income communities, or, as he puts it, when "bike lanes and bike sharing ends where the barrio begins."

"We have a real opportunity, at this point, with this not only concept but all the resources that go behind shareable movement to reframe how we're engaging with low-income communities and communities of color," Akom says, "And to do development without displacement."

He says one place that's doing things right is Austin, Texas, which is converting old power plants into cisterns to collect rainwater.

Akom says it's critically important that the GBA held his lecture at the Hill House Association, in Pittsburgh's predominantly African-American Hill District neighborhood.

He says, "... it's really critical that we bring these conversations into these communities, and, most importantly, develop mechanisms for the communities to speak for themselves about the environmental health hazards that are impacting them. And I think it's critical we don't just only talk about environmental health hazards. We also need to be talking about the assets the community is bringing to the table."

Akom's environmental consciousness grew while he lived in Philadelphia and worked on a Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.

"I myself lived next to a power plant in Philadelphia," Akom says. "And I began to think about eco-apartheid, and sort of the ways in which low-income communities, and communities of color are disproportionately feeling the burdens of climate change and, at the same time, those are the folks who are oftentimes locked out of the climate conversations that could transform the social and material conditions that they're undergoing."