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Better Block Opens the Exchange House

The Better Block announces the opening of the Exchange House, an Airbnb and cultural exchange project in Akron’s North Hill neighborhood.

The Exchange House works to engage the international community that exists in Akron, Ohio, and to provide a space that invites additional immigrants to share with the North Hill neighborhood, transfer skills, and bridge barriers between communities.

The idea for the project was conceived during a two-day Better Block, which showcased ways in which the neighborhood could be made better—from bike lanes to pop-up shops to rethinking the use of old buildings, Roberts, founder of the Better Block Foundation, got to know several of the Bhutanese refugees. He was inspired by the baby-naming ceremony he was invited to attend and the conversations that took place over tea. “What if,” he wondered, “we could take one of the empty houses in the neighborhood, and show that it can be used as an office space, a cultural exchange, and as a revenue stream?” The idea was to turn one of the floors into rooms that can be rented out via Airbnb and create a bottom floor that was open to programming—ESL classes, sewing classes, space for board meetings, and even just a space to share conversations over tea.

The Exchange House is just that. And we’re excited to announce that it opens today, February 28.

“We aim to show that if you build a space for love and you invite people in then you make a stronger community,” says Roberts.

The notion of creating community and inviting others to partake in that community has always been important to the founders at Airbnb, who earlier this month launched a #weaccept campaign that pledged to provide short-term housing over the next five years to 100,000 people in need as well as a $4 million contribution to the International Rescue Committee.

“At Airbnb, we believe in the simple idea that no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, you deserve to belong. The Exchange House represents a truly unique and moving realization of those values,” said Joe Gebbia, Airbnb co-founder and chief product officer. “We are so proud that the Better Block Foundation has incorporated our platform to accomplish a goal that motivates our day-to-day work at Airbnb—supporting refugees and breaking down social barriers.”

To rent a room at the Exchange House, go here.

As a 2015 Knight Cities Challenge winner, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation that seeks ideas to make cities more successful, Better Block was awarded $155,000 to turn a vacant property in North Hill into an AirBnB hostel and cultural hub. “Knight Foundation believes that informed and engaged communities are the bedrock of a strong democracy,” says George Abbott, Knight Foundation director for community and national initiatives. “The Exchange House will create new connections between diverse community members while testing a replicable and sustainable model for dealing with vacancy and blight. Knight looks forward to following the progress of the project and its effects on North Hill and Akron.”

The Exchange House is generously supported by the Knight Foundation. Thanks, also, to our other partners, including Phil Maynard, Roger Read, Rick Thoerig, ReStore/Habitat for Humanity of Summit County, Sai Sinbondit, Scott Read, Jon Morschl, Perry Clark with TRY Ministries, Larry Jenco with Jenco Construction, and Naresh Subba with Family Groceries.

If you would like to contribute to the house, please check out our registry here.


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