Shared City

Imagine if you could build a city that is shared.
Parc Monceau in Paris, France, photograph by Loïc Lagarde
Where people become micro-entrepreneurs,
Airbnb Host Caitlin, the first host I ever stayed with, in Denver, in August 2008
and local mom and pops flourish once again.
Jon Whitehead of Radius Cafe in San Francisco, a place I go to all the time, down the street from the original Airbnb where I still live
Imagine a city that fosters community,
Cesar Chavez in Austin, Texas, photograph by Nathan Michael
where space isn’t wasted, but shared with others.
Home in Duboce, San Francisco, photograph by Aubrie Pick
A city that produces more, but without more waste.
Host Marco Giammatteo sells fresh produce to his customers in Rome, Italy, photograph by Ailine Liefeld
While this may seem radical, it’s not a new idea.
Farmers’ market in Weatherford, Texas, photograph by Russell Lee circa 1939, via Library of Congress
Cities are the original sharing platforms.
Fujisawa, Japan by Utagawa Hiroshige circa 1848, via Library of Congress
They formed at ancient crossroads of trade,
Galata and Constantinople, Turkey circa 1890, via Library of Congress
and grew through collaboration and sharing resources.
Picadilly Circus in London, England circa 1890, via Library of Congress
But over time, they began to feel mass produced.
New buildings seen through a window from BITEC in Bangkok, Thailand, photograph by Paula Bronstein
We lived closer together, but drifted further apart.
Apartment buildings in Ariake Tennis Forest Park in Koto, Tokyo, Japan, photograph by Masaru Goto
But sharing in cities is back, and we want to help build this future.
We are committed to helping make cities stronger socially, economically, and environmentally.
Open space in New York’s Fort Greene Park, photograph by Julia Robbs
We are committed to enriching the neighborhoods we serve.
Improving the neighborhood in San Francisco, California, photograph by Marc Olivier Le blanc
We celebrate the cultural heritage of cities.
One of the oldest homes in the country I stayed in on Elfreth’s Alley, Philadelphia
We are committed to being good neighbors.
Friends hanging out in North Loop, Austin, Texas, photograph by Nathan Michael
We are committed to supporting local small businesses.
Old School Hardware, in Washington DC, is an active member of local business associations, photograph by Chris Weisler.
We are committed to working with cities to share with those in need.
A family in Gloria, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, photograph by Sam Comen
We are committed to fostering and strengthening community.
Nathan and other members of the Airbnb team and community volunteering at Bryant Elementary School in San Francisco
We believe in bringing back the idea of cities as villages.
A view of a street in Cortes, in the center of Madrid, Spain, photograph by James Rajotte
We are committed to illuminating the diversity, arts, and character of cities.
Bowery graffiti wall by Aiko Nakagawa in New York, photograph by Youngna Park
We believe cities thrive best with micro-entrepreneurs.
Josef Bray-Ali working at Flying Pigeon, a bike shop that he co-owns in LA, photograph by Lauren Devon
We are committed to the safety of neighborhoods and their homes.
Local residents in Glover Park, Washington, D.C., photograph by Chris Weisler
To honor these commitments, and to realize a more enriched city, today we are announcing Shared City.

Shared City is our initiative to help civic leaders and our community create more shareable, more livable cities through relevant, concrete actions and partnerships.

I am very pleased that our first Shared City is Portland, Oregon.

Portland’s Lloyd District and the Willamette River, photograph by Leela Cyd

I first met Mayor Hales as we discussed plans to open an office in Portland. We worked with Mayor Hales and his staff to understand how together we can create shared solutions that address Portland’s needs and help them achieve their vision of what a Shared City could be.

Mayor Charlie Hales with Molly and Marie from the Airbnb team
Ideas for a Shared Portland:

We will make it easy for Portland hosts to donate the money they earn from Airbnb to a local cause, and we will match those donations as a percentage of our fees.

Joe at a community meet up with Hosts in Portland

We have made free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors available to hosts in Portland (and across the country) in order to help our hosts make their homes safer.

Airbnb’s Home Safety initiative strives to inform Hosts about safety best practices

We’re offering to cut red tape and to collect and remit taxes to the city of Portland on behalf of our hosts. This is new for us, and if it works well for our community and cities, we may replicate this project in other U.S. cities.

Brent from the Airbnb team helping support Hosts, photograph by Mandy Harris

We want to make sure all of our hosts represent the best of Airbnb. Corporate property managers who abuse our platform, hurt the city’s housing stock and give guests a bad experience aren’t welcome on Airbnb and we will work with the city to help ensure hosts cannot abuse our platform.

In addition to our disaster relief program offering free housing in cases of emergency, we will work with Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Management to establish training programs to help our hosts respond to crisis.

Airbnb’s Disaster Response Tool

We will work with Travel Portland on joint campaigns to promote the city as a destination to our global community, highlighting its unique characteristics and diverse neighborhoods; and sending visitors to local small businesses throughout the city.

Travel Portland’s “Portland is Happening Now” campaign

It is not a coincidence that Portland is our first Shared City. Portland has a history of being a leader when it comes to urban innovation. Portland has long been a great home for entrepreneurs and has led the way in promoting green tech, conservation, and co-working spaces.

So how can you become a Shared City?

If you want to live in a Shared City, email me your thoughts and ideas for how we can work together: [email protected]

If you are a city leader that wants to partner with us, or learn more, let us know: [email protected]

Our goal is to become even better partners with more and more cities over the coming months and years.

We are committed to enriching cities and designing the kind of world we want to live in.

Together, let’s build that shared world city by city.

Bastille neighborhood, Paris, photograph by Marc Olivier Le blanc
Next Story — The Eternal Treehouse
Currently Reading - The Eternal Treehouse

The Eternal Treehouse

At the beginning of each year, I like to write an email to our company about what I think is important for the year ahead. This year, I shared this story about two of our hosts and their treehouse.

I want to tell you a story about two of our hosts, Doug and Linda.

Doug and Linda share a popular treehouse in Burlingame, California. They originally built it for two of their kids, Chloe and Brett. They used to play in the treehouse, but then they grew up and moved out of the house, and Doug and Linda were left with an unused treehouse in their yard. What should they do with it? Their eldest daughter Mackenzie recommended they list it on Airbnb. Since they started hosting 5 years ago, Doug and Linda have hosted nearly 1,000 people from all over the world.

They believe so passionately that their treehouse is more than just a place to stay. It’s a gateway into their lives. As much as any hosts on Airbnb, Doug and Linda represent our ideals, and Joe, Nate, and I have become very close to them over the years. We did a photoshoot with them a couple years ago, and they have been featured in interviews and on stage at Airbnb events.

Three weeks ago, as I was going away on holiday, I received a letter from Doug. He informed me that after a difficult battle with breast cancer, Linda passed away. I was devastated to read this news.

I had not quite known what Airbnb meant to Linda until the end of the letter that Doug had sent to me. He said,

“Linda and I have both relished in your success and the rapid growth of the Airbnb authentic travel movement… We were and remain proud to host and sometimes intimately interact with people from different countries and cultures, and feel strongly that the Airbnb framework will continue to accelerate this process on a global level. Linda and I personally felt this may in fact be the lasting legacy of Airbnb and the sharing economy. It is a small world — one world, one people.”

For three weeks, Doug’s email stared at me in my inbox. I didn’t really know what to do with it. As I was coming back from vacation, I reached out to Doug. I told him that I wanted to write about him and Linda. Then I realized I never stayed at their treehouse, but last Friday night it was available, so Elissa and I booked it. The treehouse was even more more enchanting than I remembered. When we walked in, there was this wonderful personality.

We opened the guestbook on the table and this is what we found — dozens of mementos and thank you’s left by travelers before us.

Elissa and I decided to leave a drawing of our own.

Before we left, we spent over an hour talking to Doug. We discussed how he built the treehouse, but how Linda added the spirit and soul. As Doug said, “Linda believed all good design came from nature.”

This year, you may have read predictions for new technologies that will begin changing our lives — commercial drone delivery, virtual reality, cryptocurrency, and self-driving cars are just some examples. It is indeed an exciting time — one of the most exciting for innovation in recent memory.

I do believe many of these technologies will change our lives in ways we can’t imagine, and yet people are as lonely, isolated and disconnected as ever. What the world needs is more than just new technology. It needs people like Doug and Linda. They remind us that people are fundamentally good.

As I reflect on my conversation with Doug, I remember that he kept talking about Linda in the present tense. It was like she wasn’t really gone. And in a sense for me I feel that way as well. Linda will live on through the treehouse she helped create, and the lives she touched.

Thank you for hosting Doug and Linda.

Next Story — Don’t Edit Your Imagination
Currently Reading - Don’t Edit Your Imagination

Don’t Edit Your Imagination

As children, we have vivid imaginations. We stay up late waiting for Santa Claus, dream of becoming President, and have ideas that defy physics. Then something happens. As we grow older, we start editing our imagination.

For me, it happened gradually. At the time, I thought it was just part of becoming an adult. I stopped imagining things if I couldn’t imagine how to create them. It’s like there was an internal editor in my head fact-checking the possibilities out of my world. But then I got to RISD, and a professor said something I will never forget. He said,

“If you can imagine it, you can create it.”

Think of the imagination as a giant stone from which we carve out new ideas. As we chip away, our new ideas become more polished and refined. But if you start by editing your imagination, you start with a tiny stone. I think this is why many companies are founded by first-time entrepreneurs (including us) — if they had known better, they may never had started their company.

Editing is important since it provides the logic to make our imagination real. But as Albert Einstein once said,

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”
Next Story — How to Time Travel
Currently Reading - How to Time Travel

How to Time Travel

I once met a traveler named Charlie. He came up to me and said something I will never forget. He said,

“Brian, I travel because it makes my life seem longer.”

His statement perplexed me, so I asked him to explain. He continued,

“When I am on my death bed, I want to look back at my life, and have all these vivid memories. I want them to be full and different every single day.”

I thought about this. Then I thought about my childhood. It turns out that I rode the bus to school nearly 200 days a year for more than 10 years. That’s 2,000 days. I don’t remember most of those days. They blur together.

But when I was a child, once a year, we would take a family vacation. I remember every single one of these. The first one was to St Louis. It was the first time I was on an airplane. My sister was maybe 2 or 3 years old. I remember her in her little stroller.

Each year we took a trip. Dallas. Baltimore. Chicago. Seattle. When I look back on my life and the experiences I have had, I think back to these journeys. I remember every one of them. They are vivid life experiences that I shared with the people I care about. My life is longer because of the journeys I have taken.

Me (left) with my little sister and mom on one of our vacations many years ago.

Repetition doesn’t create memories. New experiences do. Our perception of time is really driven by our perception of the unfamiliar, vivid and new. Of course, it turns out time slows down the most during life threatening experiences. [1] A safer way to slow down time is to travel. Travel is a new experience that can transport you out of your everyday routine to create memories with the ones you love.

As we enter the holiday season I hope you get a chance to spend time with the people you care about. And if you can, travel with them.

There is an old saying that “life is a journey.” In fact, life is many journeys. The more of them you take, the longer it will seem.

[1] This is a fascinating New Yorker article profiling the research of Neuroscientist David Eagleman, who has studied our perception of time, and why it seems to slow down or speed up.

Next Story — A Week in the City of Light and Love
Currently Reading - A Week in the City of Light and Love

A Week in the City of Light and Love

Our team worked into the morning calling everyone to make sure they were okay.

Yesterday I arrived back in San Francisco, along with 200 of us, from one of the longest and most emotionally draining weeks since we started Airbnb.

The week began last Sunday when I landed in Paris for the Airbnb Open, arriving at a charming 6th floor attic apartment in Saint Germain. The Airbnb Open began Thursday morning in a large arena tent that housed nearly 5,000 hosts and 645 employees. Hosts had taken the pilgrimage from nearly 110 countries, and their enthusiasm was effusive as smiles beamed from their faces.

Friday evening, I joined my family at an early employee reunion dinner at a beautiful Airbnb with our first 40 employees. It was an emotional beginning of the evening. Joe gave a toast, and we reflected on the last four and a half years together.

At 9:45pm, news started coming in of an attack in Paris. At first, we thought it was an isolated incident, so we only occasionally checked Twitter. By 10:30pm, it was clear that they were a series of coordinated attacks. Once we learned that 100 people were taken hostage in a theater, fear struck over the dinner. Our phones started buzzing with friends and loved ones wondering if we were okay. Immediately, we started thinking about our employees and hosts who were distributed throughout the city while a series of coordinated attacks were transpiring. Most remarkably, for many, the first person that contacted us was our Airbnb host.

Michael, our head of security, took over central command, and a handful of employees stayed up throughout the night so could account for all 645 of our employees. Some were just a couple doors from the attacks, and had witnessed much of the horror. We knew that one of our groups were at the stadium where an attack occurred, and we were worried they would be caught in a stampede. Others were hiding under tables in restaurants, whose metal gates were locked with the lights dimmed.

The city went into lockdown. At that point, it was clear we were going to be barricaded in our house. We set up a mini communication hub in a walk-in shower (since there was no other private space in our Airbnb) where I could communicate with central command. There were tons of quick decisions to make — how do we find everyone, do we cancel the following day’s events, how can we get the community to open their homes without putting them in harm’s way?

By 3:00am, we were informed that the lockdown would not be lifted, and we would likely be spending the night in the house. Imagine that we had 50+ people in a 2 bedroom Airbnb loft. We cleared out the furniture, and set up pillows and blankets on the floors so people could get some sleep. When we got word that we had tracked down the final people and had no one left unaccounted for, we let out a sigh of relief and quiet cheer.

The following day, I felt like a zombie. Like many, we were jittery, and not quite feeling ourselves. Our Paris office, including some of those most affected, held strong and supported everyone.

Yesterday morning, nearly 100 of us boarded a United Airlines flight back to San Francisco. Stepping on the plane, it was clear that everyone was just happy to be returning home. As we landed in San Francisco, we were greeted with a surprise welcome from over a dozen Airbnb employees who dedicated their Sunday to welcoming us back with hospitable fanfare, handing out water and warm cookies. It once again reminded us of how warm and caring people can be, and made us feel completely supported. They made us feel so special.

Here is the greeting we got at the airport.

Reflecting on this week, two things come to mind — light and love.

First, Paris is known as “The City of Light” for it’s early adoption of gas lamp street lights. This week I saw a different kind of light radiate the sky. In the face of unspeakable atrocities, the city of Paris, and our community, rose up with resilience and optimism. When each of you stood up, a light of warmth switched on, and the city got a little bit smaller. This light will not leave Paris anytime soon.

Second, Paris is also referred known as “The City of Love.” This is more appropriate. The unspeakable acts that we witnessed yesterday represent the worst of humanity. In the face of this tragedy, I saw the very best. Our community cared for one another, and came together to honor our highest ideals.

Crisis has an unfortunate way of bonding people together, and our bond was forged not just through shared experience but a deep care and love for one another. In this hour, we can say that we have never felt closer to our community and teams. You’re not alone now, or ever. We are here to support and care for every one of you, as you have done for each other. Dr King once said:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Let there be more light and love.

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