The rise of coworking spaces has been one of the more exciting community development trends in recent years. Coworking spaces seem to be popping up everywhere. Here in Arlington, I can think of a half dozen such places, and I suspect that most major cities boast similar market penetration levels. Coworking spaces are even opening in small cities and rural areas. The latest Coworking Census counts 853 spaces in the US (and nearly 2500 worldwide). That’s an impressive number, but I suspect even this figure (released in February 2013) is a serious undercount.
Coworking spaces never operated via a single business model, but the industry is now developing a host of exciting new models and approaches. The latest Government Technology magazine takes a look at how some coworking spaces are getting engaged in the “civic hacking” movement. Civic hacking has relied on IT experts who help government officials design apps and other tools to address city challenges such as trash removal, pothole repair and the like. These efforts have traditionally used competitions, such as New York City’s Big Apps prize, or events like last month’s National Day of Civic Hacking.
Coworking spaces, or collaborative workspaces, are now getting into the act, and this makes great sense. After all, they are places where smart skilled people, with great IT skills, congregate on a regular basis. Why not tap into this base of collective expertise? That’s what’s happening at Chandler AZ’s Gangplank, one of the earliest, and still among the coolest, collaborative workspaces around. Gangplank helps deliver city services, and its members are encouraged to participate on key City Boards and Commissions. In Philadelphia, users of the IndyHall coworking space actually have helped the city create a new 311 information app. These important experiments offer a means to not only improve community services, but to build a stronger base of civic engagement at coworking spaces and beyond.