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Airbnb’s Plan To Help Revive Dying Communities

Airbnb built the Cedar House, a finalist in the 2017 Innovation By Design Awards, to help revitalize a small Japanese community. Now the company wants to spread the model to other towns.

Airbnb’s Plan To Help Revive Dying Communities
Yoshino Cedar House [Illustration: James Gilleard]

Cedar House is an honoree in the 2017 Innovation By Design Awards, Fast Company‘s annual celebration of the best ideas in design. See the rest of the winners, finalists, and honorable mentions here.

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Airbnb executives heard an inspiring story a few years ago about a mother who’d created the first listing in her town of Tokamachi, Japan. Like many small communities in the country, Tokamachi had been hollowed out by urban migration and an aging population. So the woman, looking for a new way to earn money, got her neighbors to help renovate a vacant house. When guests started streaming through, these neighbors became tour guides. The listing became a capsule tourism economy. “We thought, If she can do that all by herself, what could you do with the resources of Airbnb?” says Joe Gebbia, Airbnb’s cofounder and chief product officer. When he and his team were asked in 2016 to create a home of the future for a Japanese design fair, they looked to Tokamachi for inspiration. They wanted to develop something that would give back to the community.


Related: An Exclusive Look At Airbnb’s First Foray Into Urban Planning


The seven-guest Cedar House, built and run by residents of the tiny logging town of Yoshino, opened last March; it currently boasts an 80% occupancy rate. When Gebbia himself stayed there last spring, he was treated to a tour of local forests and a potluck dinner thrown by the hosts. He credits the design of the house itself for fostering these experiences. The project’s architect, Go Hasegawa, prioritized flowing communal spaces and a traditional engawa—a veranda that serves as a rest stop and gathering area. The Cedar House’s engawa connects with the town’s main walking path, encouraging visitors and locals to interact. Airbnb now has a team supporting the spread of the Cedar House model in other towns, such as Civita, Italy, where locals are transforming an old city building into a guesthouse.

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About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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