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Airbnb hopes to redesign small towns

Its new Samara division is designing housing projects that could secure the future of home sharing.

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For Airbnb, it's not enough to try to shape city policies on home sharing -- it wants to shape the cities themselves. The service tells FastCo Design that it has created an innovation lab, Samara, whose aims include rethinking architecture and urban planning. If Airbnb can spark new life in small towns, the reasoning goes, it can create "new types of commerce" and attract more rentals to areas that might be on the decline. Samara's initial effort is a communal housing project for the small Japanese town of Yoshino (due to open soon after its October arrival), but there's talk of similar work for other small towns as well as new product designs, software and "economic models."

The move may seem odd for a company whose business revolves around booking stays at other people's places. However, it's in keeping with a tech industry trend of tackling larger technological and social challenges in order to shape the market -- think of Uber's work on self-driving cars, or internet-everywhere initiatives from Facebook and Google. Airbnb can only thrive if there are bustling urban centers that you want to visit, and an investment in those centers now could easily pay off in the future.

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