Just about everyone knows Airbnb is a great resource for finding temporary places to live—for a night, a weekend, or a little longer. Now, the hospitality company is taking on a new challenge: design spaces that will become enduring fixtures of their communities for years to come. Beginning in Japan, Airbnb’s new division Samara will create a communal housing project in one small town as a model for future community projects in other areas of the world. The first project is intended to revitalize the town’s struggling economy by encouraging tourism in places most tourists don’t think to go.

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airbnb, samara, urban planning, small towns, japan, yoshino, nara prefecture, communal housing, community center, tourism, local economy

The project comprises a community center where travelers can also stay, creating a space for locals and visitors to interact while bringing in revenue at the same time. Japanese architect Go Hasegawa was tapped to design the project in the sleepy town of Yoshino, in the Nara prefecture. There, local craftsmen and abundant local building materials made it possible, if not easy, to create a new building that seamlessly integrates with the existing community.

Related: Now you can rent a room in Japan’s Nakagin Capsule Tower via Airbnb

airbnb, samara, urban planning, small towns, japan, yoshino, nara prefecture, communal housing, community center, tourism, local economy

The building features a communal living room on the ground floor, as well as a kitchen and a 16-foot-long dining table to encourage socialization. Guest rooms are located on the second floor. “Imagine it’s lunch time and you’re eating and at the end of the table there’s a community meeting taking place,” Airbnb co-founder and Chief Product Officer Joe Gebbia told Fast Company. “I picture Western guests walking up, stepping inside, and you’re interacting with the community from the minute you arrive. If you want to tour the sake factory, or the chopstick factory, or take a hike, the locals are right there.”

Because Japanese culture already incorporates community centers and the government has goals to build more of them, Airbnb believes locals will embrace the concept—especially once they begin to realize the financial benefits. The debut project in Yoshino went even more smoothly than planners could have hoped for, since the town donated the land and local craftsmen contributed resources and labor to bring the community center into reality. The effort might not be as simple in other locations, but project leaders are hopeful they will find other small towns with residents eager to take their economy into their own hands.

Where will Airbnb’s Samara build its next project? It could be almost anywhere. Since the project in Japan began, Gebbia said, “We’ve gotten calls from people in the U.K., China, Korea, Spain, France, and Italy, all with the same problem.”

Via Fast Company

Images via Edward Caruso Photography