I heard a co-founder of AirBnB on the TED Radio Hour this morning talking about how his app is part of “the sharing economy.” Apps like AirBnB, Uber, or Lyft, are said to exemplify the so-called “sharing economy” in which an apartment owner “shares” their square footage through a web app like AirBnB or a car owner “shares” rides through Lyft. What this misnamed economic relationship really is is a commodification of private goods; it is purely rent collection.
I had an opportunity to visit a real sharing economy recently: Whitesburg, Kentucky. Whitesburg, and its anchor cultural institution Appalshop, were on a tour of Eastern Kentucky cultural infrastructure during the recent “Artists Thr!ve” convening hosted by the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, held at Berea College September 6-9 2017.
Whitesburg is a small town, population ~2200, the county seat of Letcher County, population ~23,000. Since 1969, Appalshop has housed media production and training facilities that are deployed to amplify “new and often unheard voices and visions from the people of Appalachia and rural communities across America and abroad.” During my brief visit, we met with a panel of people from across the community and across the political spectrum who talked about the way they shared resources and knowledge, on a grounding of trust. The volunteer fire department shares its space, time and talents with the community; the farmer shares goods through the “Farmacy” program, which actually prescribes fruits and vegetables to people in need of healthy food; Appalshop shares its space with its community, operating a drop-in youth center; and more. Here in Whitesburg, by necessity, intention, and tradition, people from health, public safety, culture, and agriculture share their time. Mostly, I observed, they share love: love of each other and love of place.