A 5-hectare (12-acre) wheat field in the shadows of skyscrapers in Milan’s new Porta Nuova business district is a symbol of the sharing economy emerging in the city that’s preparing to host the Universal Expo.
The theme for the global trade fair is “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” an event expected to draw as many as 20 million visitors between May 1 and Oct. 31 that may add 10 billion euros ($11 billion) to Italy’s economy.
Milan, Italy’s business capital, is using the exhibition as a springboard for private initiatives and municipal services in sharing, showcasing everything from bikes and cars to homes. The home-sharing service Airbnb Inc. is doubling offerings in the northern city of 1.3 million, seeking to close the gap created by Milan’s 54,000 hotel rooms that can’t house the 6 to 8 million expected foreign visitors.
“We need to meet the demand and the sharing economy can be a sustainable and responsible answer,” Matteo Stifanelli, 29, country manager for Airbnb, said in an interview. “There are unused apartments or rooms. These are made available through our platform. It’s a way for the Milanese to do more with what they already have and benefit more from an event like the Expo.”
Milan joins cities like Seoul and Amsterdam in encouraging resource-efficiency to combat pollution and waste and bring down the cost of services. The city boasts the fourth-biggest European bike-sharing program and has about 250,000 car-sharing users. Airbnb’s offer of rooms and apartments in the city doubled to 8,000 in the past year, while the demand more than doubled in the 12 months to January.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has used the Expo event, whose pavilions have been built just outside Milan, as a linchpin to help bring the euro zone’s third-biggest economy out of its longest recession on record. He’s touting the trade fair as a way to boost infrastructure and bolster tourism.
Globally, the five main sharing industries generated $15 billion in revenue in 2013, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The market is forecast to grow manifold to $335 billion by 2025, accounting for half the sales in rental services for cars and accommodation, PwC said. Italy is Airbnb’s third-biggest market after the U.S. and France.
“The expo is certainly going to be a test market for these platforms that have bet on the idea of re-use of goods and services,” Cristina Tajani, 38, Milan’s municipal official in charge of economic development, said in an interview. The city is putting together a list of registered sharing operators.
Milan has spent about 2 million euros to fund co-working initiatives in reconverted property and incubators of startups including Prestiamoci, a social-lending marketplace, and TerraXchange, which connects landowners with potential city farmers.
Urban farming is picking up and has prompted the IED fashion institute and agriculture association Coldiretti to study an app to create and monitor urban fruit and vegetables gardens. At the Porta Nuova development — recently purchased by the Qatar sovereign wealth fund — about 5,000 locals joined the public sowing of Wheatfield, a land art project by artist Agnes Denes on Feb. 28.
The last time such a field appeared in downtown Milan was 70 years ago, when World War II forced citizens starved by Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime to grow wheat in central locations such as the landmark Piazza Duomo.
Granted, not all shared services have been welcomed with open arms. While Uber Technologies Inc. — a U.S. pavilion partner at the Expo — and Airbnb vie for venture capital funds in the U.S., they’ve still got a long way to go in Europe.
Consumer groups and taxi associations have opposed car- booking application Uber. Only about 40 percent of Lombardy residents, the region that includes Milan, would share their apartment or car, a DuePuntoZero DOXA survey of 300 people on April 2014 showed.
Still, many businesses are riding the Expo wave. Some websites want to use the Milan event to expand abroad. For example, Gnammo links home chefs with budget dining. It reached 40,000 users in just more than two years and booked 1,400 dinner seats so far this year, already matching the number in 2014.
“This can be a trampoline for our opening in the U.K., France, Netherlands and Spain later this summer,” said co- founder Walter Dabbicco, who expects the “exponential” growth will continue with the Expo.
Three out of four Italians are open to using sharing services, according to the DOXA survey presented by Sharexpo, which groups foundations and research consultants. More than 10 million Expo visitors could potentially use sharing services, 4.6 million of those with a high propensity, Sharexpo estimated. About 1.3 million, or 7,000 a day for the six months, may seek out room shares.
Milan has 3,600 bikes and about 31,000 users for its bike- sharing system, the 12th in the world, according to Sharexpo. It will be the first to add electric bikes in coming weeks and it plans scooter sharing this year. Car sharing has five operators with 1,800 cars. The arrival of electric bikes and scooters will boost users of shared means,said Pierfrancesco Maran, in charge of transportation for the city, which has spent 8 million euros of state funds on mobility initiatives.
With the Expo, all these sharing services “will have an audience of potential users in an unprecedented way,” said Tajani, Maran’s colleague in the municipal government.
–With assistance from Chiara Remondini in Milan.
This article was written by Marco Bertacche from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.