Although the details of startup accelerator Y Combinator’s New Cities initiative, which will be headed by Adora Cheung and Sam Altman, remain largely undisclosed, the announcement has already created a buzz among urbanists and techies alike. According to a post on Y Combinator’s blog, the first phase will be a YC Research, which will be shared publicly; the team will then decide whether or not they want to pursue the project further and if so, in what capacity.
The accelerator and investment firm behind Airbnb, Dropbox and Instacart is ambitiously promising to take on one of the twenty-first centuries greatest challenges: unprecedented urban migration. Urbanization – once largely centered in the West – has become a global phenomenon, and today, more than 50% of the world’s population lives in cities, with projections putting the world’s urban population at 66% in 2050. According to one report, there were 28 mega-cities worldwide in 2014, “…home to 453 million people or about 12% of the world’s urban dwellers.”
“We want to study building new, better cities. The world is full of people who aren’t realizing their potential in large part because their cities don’t provide the opportunities and living conditions necessary for success,” explains Cheung in the blog. Y Combinator promises to build cities for all – not just for techies. “We’re not interested in building crazy libertarian utopias for techies,” says Cheung in a footnote.
According to one report, New Cities will look to cities like China’s Shenzhen for inspiration; the former fishing-village-turned-special-economic-zone is today one of China’s wealthiest tech R&D centers.
New Cities is far from the first initiative centered on city-building to emerge from Silicon Valley. Earlier this year, Alphabet Inc. announced the launch of its urban innovation organization Sidewalk Labs – a project that promises to improve urban infrastructure through technological solutions.