Can renting cars by the hour and crashing in strangers’ spare bedrooms really change the economy?
My latest cover story in the Washington City Paper allowed me to call on a couple of years of personal experiences as a “collaborative consumer.” I also got to talk to other people using D.C.’s car and bike shares, Airbnb and eatFeastly hosts, as well as a bunch of pundits who say the burgeoning “sharing economy” is ushering in big changes in the way we live.
Here’s an excerpt from the story:
Sharing enthusiasts see a future with less pollution, inefficiency, and injustice—not to mention fewer cars. But sharing services aren’t always green (you can, after all, share a private jet). They seem more likely—not less—to accentuate class differences and perpetuate the same bad behavior on commercial, labor, and environmental fronts that everything that came before them did. And while sharing depends on high-tech social media and smartphone apps, in many ways the collaborative world harkens back to the past: to barter systems; the hyper-localism of preautomobile societies; and the almost small-town importance of reputation, which will increasingly follow us around as “data exhaust” that could replace the credit rating. Still, the changes afoot are propelled by decidedly 21st century realities: population growth, booming cities, rising costs, and shrinking personal space.
If I hadn’t become a journalist, I may have taken up sociology. I’m fascinated about what makes society work; how people think and why; and how different cultures can come to very different views — or sometimes very similar ones — through different — or remarkably the same — experiences and approaches.
At the beginning of my career, I had the good fortune to spend six years in Mexico writing about everything from Mexican cinema to the country’s political elections and economic development for the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers.
This year, I’ve had a chance to reconnect with this interest in “the general assignment,” as in general assignment reporting. As the managing editor of the new Latino cultural site, Hola Cultura, I spend part of every day now focused on the arts and humanities. Besides becoming more fluent in online video and other forms of multimedia communication, which are most certainly the future of journalism, the work has reconnected me to a past love: reporting on Hispanic culture.
While running holacultura.com is a blast, I haven’t lost interest in stories about environmental issues and their connections to most aspects of life — a web of relationships often reflected upon in art. Since it’s been awhile since I updated this site, here’s a roundup of environmental stories I’ve published in recent months:
For those of us following the climate change debate, we’ve heard for years that to build a clean energy economy we first need a “smart grid” capable of plugging into an array of big and small power sources — from residential rooftop solar panels to massive wind farms. For some, however, the “smart meters” represent a massive new assault on the airwaves and public health.
Read more about DC’s meter battle in my story in this week’s Washington City Paper.
After reading one too many reports that corporations were going “zero waste,” I began to wonder what this means for landfills. Could we really be headed toward a world without trash dumps and Superfund sites?
Considering that there’s possibly as much as 30 tons of industrial trash for every ton of municipal solid waste, we are talking a lot of trash; though corporations have even trashed the word and now consider their castoffs the fodder of new “profit centers.” But what happens to these newly branded “resources” after they’ve been “reduced, reused or recycled”? I learned the answer is far from straightforward. Read the story on Alternet.org.