We Have Room: September Mashup on Sustainable Cities
6 October 2016 - Kirsten Zerbinis

Cities are sustainability champions. Because they are so compact, they use use less energy, promote public transportation, a foster creativity. From their mingling guts comes innovation.  The city’s biggest ace is its efficient use of space: cities can grow vertically. And thanks to technology and the innovators who figure out how to use it to improve our lives, we can push that efficiency even further.

In September, Impact Hub hosted another Mash Up, which is an event series where we host innovators and entrepreneurs at several Impact Hubs simultaneously. This year, we are focused on the UN Sustainable Development goals. The September Mash Up was a chance to look under the lid of #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. We had three guests locally — two of them members of Impact Hub — and a Super Speaker who spoke from Budapest. All of them addressed the topic of how to share space in the city.

Our first speaker was Peter Santesson of Synk Arkiterktur. His company is heavily involved in the practical issues of sharing space, and he is an organizer of Open House Stockholm. On October 7th and 8th, Stockholm will open its doors and give everyone a rare chance to peek behind the thick walls of the stunning buildings in this city. Many of us are curious about what’s behind those doors, but curiosity isn’t the only need that will be satisfied by the event. “People only judge buildings from the outside, but they should experience the space first hand so that the general public can discuss the architecture, to be informed and engaged.” Architecture isn’t just decoration — it’s about designing spaces to support the people who use them. The more people who engage with the spaces, the more active the citizens will be in future conversations about how the city should grow. And volunteers can expect to get even more out of the experience, as they meet with architects, planners and developers in Stockholm.

The Open House is not just local. 30 cities take part in the Open House project and Stockholm is the newest addition to the list.  Your favorite Impact Hub will also open its gates to anyone curious to peek behind the walls!

If you find a lovely site during your Open House Stockholm walks, but regret that the space is already taken or beyond your financial reach, our second speaker Cristian Suazo might be able to help you. He is the creator of Bokarum, which is a sort of AirBnB for office spaces and meeting rooms. Bokarum allows empty conference rooms to be filled with chatter, using the city space to the maximum while allowing the owners or renters of the space to monetize on their empty rooms.

Cristian talked to us about his journey to success. It wasn’t easy or quick, since his idea was slightly ahead of what the market was ready for. The app itself was not the problem – it was the underdeveloped market that he had to try to develop on his own, with help of his partner, family and friends. After endless calls, visits, LinkedIn and Facebook marketing attempts, hundreds of handwritten postcards sent, he was still short of reaching the necessary web traffic to drive the platform.

He knew that scaling to multiple cities was going to be critical. He went to London for a month of walk-ins. “I walked into a five-star hotel and I asked for the sales director,” he said, “and then I got to talk to the sales director.” That worked in London, but Sweden requires a different approach. “In Sweden it is quite easy to find the boss but the boss never takes the decisions without talking to many people. In the UK it is difficult to get through, but once you’re in, the boss can decide.” Still, the London trip yielded very little progress to the Bokarum’s growth. Eventually, Cristian started to work for another start-up, waiting for the market to be ready for his innovation.  

Last summer however, two competitors launched similar products, helping the market to gain momentum. Developing a market on your own is a gargantuan task, but with competition, bookings doubled during the time Cristian was working with other projects. “Now London is up and running’ we got 400 rooms in the last 2 months.” Bokarum is currently fundraising ahead of its plans to expand worldwide – so soon you can conference away!

Our third guest, Åsa Minoz from Modig Minoz, took us back to home ground. Stockholm is infamous for its lack of housing, and other big Swedish towns are struggling with the same issue. At the same time, almost 400 thousands “mambos” roam the Swedish soil – young people who’d want to live on their own but can’t get their own accommodation, hence they stay unwillingly at their parents’ place. As chance would have it, an almost equal number of senior citizens live on their own in accommodations a bit too big for their needs.

Åsa couldn’t help but to work out an elegant and ingenious solution: Ett tak, Två generationer (One roof, Two generations).  This organization is a cooperative, co-financed by Vinnova that aims to “match” youngsters in need of accommodation with seniors who are seeking company, a little extra income, or just a new adventure. Optimally, the flatmates would share not just money and the space but daily life as well, maybe finding matching interests they would have never imagined having with someone belonging to a different generation: “That’s how you create an intergenerational dialogue,” says Åsa.

When Åsa talked about her business model, someone from the audience pressed her to explain more. What kind of business model should a sharing economy project have?  Should they all be not-fot-profit or cooperative? Åsa replied that it was important for her to use a cooperative company structure. Since her goal was to help as many people as possible, she chose a structure that is seen as more trustworthy, especially among seniors. She agreed that she wanted “to make it a sustainable and well functioning as a social enterprise.” Ett tak, Två generationer won’t make anyone a rich man or woman; it might however provide a vital service for thousands.

Peter, Cristian and Åsa all found different ways to work towards the goal of Sustainable Cities and Communities. What lessons can we take from their insights? I have chosen the following one: sustainable cities are not only about the use of space but also about the community that inhabits the space. After all, the success of a city does not come from its structures, but from its people and what they make, do, and experience there.



Kirsten Zerbinis was following the new media story. Now she’s creating it as the Co-founder of a media technology startup.