The borrowing network
Why borrowing is important for circular cities.
The production of consumer goods in cities is over-expanding, with critical consequences on the environment. Owning large amounts of underused items is wasteful especially when the use of such products is occasional. A possible solution to change these detrimental consume patterns is ensuring spaces in the city where to borrow instead of buy.
Spend less, share more.
Libraries of things are places where people can borrow useful items that they would otherwise buy and use on very few occasions. You just moved into your new apartment and need to fix some shelves, but don't have a drill; you want to gather your relatives and need an extra table; you are giving a presentation but don't have a projector. Examples like these can be many, and you might wish to have someone to ask for these things. What if the answer is in your neighbourhood?
With very little rental fees come benefits that go beyond the convenience of the single person who saved money on a purchase. Having spaces within the city where shared resources are available for the community helps to foster local connections and stimulates responsibility and respect towards goods that can be used by everybody.
Thinking twice before purchasing is always a good idea, but the paradigm at the base of the libraries of things is more sound. Enabling collective borrowing means shifting the value - of materials, components and products - from ownership to access, and from individual consumption to collective use.
Furthermore, lending things to multiple users implies that products are of excellent performance, high-quality and durability: there is no space for planned obsolescence. Like we discussed in a previous article, circularity applied to cities means new forms of urbanity that limits waste starting from the individual household.
How does it work?
A good example to learn how a library of things work is that of London, started in 2014 as a nonprofit. Members are able to browse the things online, sorted out by categories such as cleaning, outdoor activities, gardening and also DIY tools because borrowing is an excellent way to try new hobbies as well. They can check rental prices, place online reservations and come to pick up the items at the Crystal Palace location. After having returned them, it's also possible to track the impact of borrowing instead of buying, in terms of waste and resources saved.
In 2017, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan pledged 3000£ to help launch the Library of Things at the vibrant location of Crystal Palace, proving that implementing such solutions is possible and relevant for our cities. Local authorities can encourage library of things as part of a new, shared infrastructure by partly or totally funding the opening and providing tax credits for location hosts and suppliers.
Potential sites can be collective spaces of housing developments, existing libraries, stalls within sport and market facilities, in general anywhere a good footfall exists.
As for suppliers, items could be provided by the local community giving out good quality second-hand items, but also by known brands (e.g. of electronics, hobby & outdoor equipment) interested in advertising their collection, or even by shops that have unsold products.
Another example is Toronto tool library that in addition to renting tools and equipments, it also runs membership-based maker spaces, providing training to use specific tools such as 3D printers, laser cut, power tools, or to learn a particular hobby.
"Borrowing is the new buying"
Circular cities are more affordable and can optimize resources. In this perspective, being able to cut costs associated with underused items will reduce individual consumption and benefits the environment. Libraries of things represent an asset for neighbourhood, increasing the access to goods and services and rediscussing manufactory processes towards higher-quality products for the benefit of the collectivity.
Library of Things London https://www.libraryofthings.co.uk/
Toronto Tool Library https://torontotoollibrary.com/
The Wasted City: Approaches to Circular City Making, Trancity, Edited by Cities Foundation, 2017