San Francisco-based home-sharing giant Airbnb recently launched a new design studio called Samara.
The move into design comes as Airbnb looks to diversify its products and disrupt other industries along with traditional hospitality. Many have called this Airbnb’s “foray into urban planning.”
According to its website, Samara will explore “new attitudes towards sharing and trust.”
Upon launching Samara, Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia indicated that trust is “the foundation of the company,” as is innovating on all aspects of trust for their service, company and community.
He says that with trust, “we have the capacity to break through more barriers and in turn allow our community members to better serve each other.”
Samara recently launched its first project, Yoshino Cedar House, which was designed to foster a strong relationship between hosts and guests. The project is to be installed in a small village in Japan and will be a bookable Airbnb site owned and managed by the village. The project aims to direct funds into the local area to support its development and stem rural challenges of small town decline and youth leaving.
Gebbia has said that Samara doesn’t intend to own these projects and will focus on designing and sharing new ways of connecting in the community.
City projects have become a common theme among Silicon Valley giants with the likes of Y Combinator, a startup accelerator, and Alphabet’s New York-based Sidewalk Labs now engaging in this space.
Y-Combinator is currently developing a team to research the city of the future and answering questions such as:
- What should a city optimise for?
- How can we encourage a diverse range of people to live and work in the city?
- How can we make and keep housing affordable?
- What effects will the new city have on the surrounding community?
- How can we make sure a city is constantly evolving and always open to change?
The research team aims to assess these findings for viable entrepreneurship opportunities, with those research findings available publicly to help inform decisions on better cities.
While a commercial theme is present in Y-Combinator’s new initiative, there is a social and community pivot in their research project.
The entry of Sidewalk Labs also represents another interesting player in city development. Focusing on new digital technologies to transform cities, Sidewalk Labs hopes to create cities that are more responsive, equitable, innovative and human.
According to its website, principles guiding Sidewalk Labs include:
- improving the human experience
- fostering both planned and unplanned interactions
- the inherent power of shared cities
- cities that adapt to the needs of its people
- openness to newcomers
- ashared set of values among people
- coordinated actions among people that aren’t just top-down
These guiding principles share some similarities with Samara’s theme of shared value and trust as well as Y-Combinator’s theme of inclusiveness and adaptation.
Given the record of innovation and service from Silicon Valley, the onset of urban planning interest in the technology sector could have many benefits to city development.
It remains to be seen what commercial interest many of these companies have in city development, however the present community principles guiding their work are welcome.