SimCity IRL

This Silicon Valley startup is building a brand-new city from the ground up

National Technology Urbanism
(VJ PLZ / YouTube)

Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley–based business accelerator and investment firm that backed Airbnb and Dropbox, has turned its attention towards an ambitious project that most of us only dream about during a SimCity gaming binge.

Y Combinator’s nonprofit division, YC Research, is inviting collaborators to research ways to build a more affordable, legible city. The project intends to find ways to reduce a household’s housing expenses by 90 percent and write a full book of city code that’s less than 100 pages long. The ultimate plan, Y Combinator partner Adora Cheung and president Sam Altman said, is to produce a real city to demonstrate these principles in practice.

The project will be a stage for testing ideas in urban policy and for expanding the scope of Y Combinator. Although the company hasn’t chosen a location yet, the firm will solicit proposals for streamlined construction, an advanced power, driverless cars (this is Silicon Valley, of course), and smarter zoning and property law. Altman states that YC Research will ultimately have an annual budget of over $100 million. “The central theme is to work on things that we need for the successful evolution of humanity,” he told Bloomberg Technology.

Why would a firm that funded Airbnb, the bête noire of housing activists, be interested in affordability? Altman strenuously denies that Y Combinator’s new project is meant to soften the image of the tech industry, whose thousands of highly-paid Silicon Valley workers, many critics contend, are driving up the cost of housing in the Bay Area. He maintains that Y Combinator is applying its “innovation model” to a pressing urban issue.

Interested? Initial applications are due July 30.

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