Facing Changing Climate, San Francisco Prepares to Share

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The city of San Francisco is tapping into sharing technologies in preparation for storms and rising sea levels.

When climate change unleashes storms and rising seal levels on
the city of San Francisco,
its residents will be ready … to share. Mayor Edwin Lee recently announced a partnership between the city’s
Department of Emergency Management (DEM) and BayShare, a group of stakeholders
in the Bay Area’s sharing economy. The city and its population of tech-savvy,
share-friendly environmentalists already have big ideas for repurposing
existing apps and online services for use when disaster strikes.

Rory Smith of Shareable imagines
it playing out
something like this: “think Lyft
drivers transporting maintenance personnel to priority areas, Yerdle users offering basic supplies to those
in need neighborhood by neighborhood, and Airbnb
enabling hosts to provide free accommodation to displaced people.”

Airbnb established a precedent for such use during Hurricane
Sandy, when it helped connect 1400 people with free places to stay, writes
Smith. And the company thinks that number could rise through use of its new “disaster
response mode,” a separate landing page where users can post free rooms without
Airbnb’s typical fees, making it quick and simple to list (and find) emergency lodgings.

While the sharing concept is
exciting, it’s also tempting to approach this new breed of public-private partnership
with suspicion. After all, the “PPP” model has failed the public before, and disaster
relief is no exception. Besides, shouldn’t we be able to count on FEMA and
other government organizations to do the job?

It’s fair to be wary, and we should be able to count on government to
respond–but it doesn’t hurt to create ways for people to help each other out. At
the very least, the San Francisco-BayShare partnership offers an improvement
over the disaster capitalism we saw after emergencies like Katrina. And by
tapping into existing technologies, the city gets a head-start on providing easy-to-use
services that could save lives.

Of course, apps shouldn’t constitute the entire plan. As groups
working under the banner of Occupy Sandy showed, grassroots organizations can do
important relief work, filling in
gaps left by FEMA, the Red Cross, and city restoration centers
. But as Occupy
Sandy’s name makes clear, the operation didn’t simply spring up in response to
the storm. It owes much of its success to the organizational groundwork laid by
Occupy Wall Street over the course of the previous year. San Francisco’s DEM seems to have taken
inspiration from Occupy’s bottom-up approach, and is encouraging San
Franciscans to prepare by organizing and sharing in advance. “[P]reparedness is about getting your supplies
together. But it’s also about knowing your neighbors, lending a hand, and
sharing your knowledge,” says the homepage of the city’s new online
venue for disaster communications, SF72. “Here’s
the thing,” the site continues, “actual emergencies look more like people
coming together than cities falling apart. Past disasters–from Sandy
to Fukushima–have
proven that connected communities are more resilient.”

San Francisco’s willingness
to acknowledge and plan for climate change earned it a spot on Grist‘s recent unempirical but well-reasoned
rundown of the United States’
best cities for riding out climate change
. “Yes, it’s on the coast and that means trouble,” writes Jim Meyer, “but San Francisco’s ocean beach master plan
acknowledges the inevitability of rising seas and includes a managed retreat from the most threatened areas.” Add a
prepared public to that list and the most unfortunate thing about San Francisco’s plan is
that more cities aren’t emulating it.

Image licensed under Creative Commons.

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