Things Change: Updating That Quote About Uber, Airbnb, etc

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Uber Me to My Airbnb? For Wheelchair Users, Not So Fast

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There are many companies that are part of this new economy, but for the purposes of accessible travel, Airbnb and Uber are the most relevant. And sadly, wheelchair users are largely being left out of it.

Because Airbnb involves people renting out their private homes, the company lives in a sort of regulatory gray area. Homeowners in the United States who use Airbnb are not required to make their properties comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, although they are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities and those who use service animals. A few years ago, Airbnb gave homeowners the option of describing their properties as wheelchair accessible. But in most cases homeowners who are able-bodied tend to believe “wheelchair accessible” means a wheelchair user can get through the front door — and that’s about it. This puts wheelchair users in the exhausting position of having to contact every Airbnb host who has listed a home as wheelchair friendly in their destination to ask questions about roll-in showers, doorway widths, ramps and other items, over and over again.

Welcome to Airspace

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Every time Schwarzmann alights in a foreign city he checks the app, which lists food, nightlife, and entertainment recommendations with the help of a social network-augmented algorithm. Then he heads toward the nearest suggested cafe. But over the past few years, something strange has happened. “Every coffee place looks the same,” Schwarzmann says. The new cafe resembles all the other coffee shops Foursquare suggests, whether in Odessa, Beijing, Los Angeles, or Seoul: the same raw wood tables, exposed brick, and hanging Edison bulbs.

It’s not that these generic cafes are part of global chains like Starbucks or Costa Coffee, with designs that spring from the same corporate cookie cutter. Rather, they have all independently decided to adopt the same faux-artisanal aesthetic. Digital platforms like Foursquare are producing “a harmonization of tastes” across the world, Schwarzmann says. “It creates you going to the same place all over again.”

…We could call this strange geography created by technology “AirSpace.” It’s the realm of coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live / work spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Minimalist furniture. Craft beer and avocado toast. Reclaimed wood. Industrial lighting. Cortados. Fast internet. The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless, a value that Silicon Valley prizes and cultural influencers like Schwarzmann take advantage of. Changing places can be as painless as reloading a website. You might not even realize you’re not where you started.

It’s possible to travel all around the world and never leave AirSpace, and some people don’t… As an affluent, self-selecting group of people move through spaces linked by technology, particular sensibilities spread, and these small pockets of geography grow to resemble one another, as Schwarzmann discovered: the coffee roaster Four Barrel in San Francisco looks like the Australian Toby’s Estate in Brooklyn looks like The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen looks like Bear Pond Espresso in Tokyo. You can get a dry cortado with perfect latte art at any of them, then Instagram it on a marble countertop and further spread the aesthetic to your followers.

This confluence of style is being accelerated by companies that foster a sense of placelessness, using technology to break down geography. Airbnb is a prominent example. Even as it markets unique places as consumable goods, it helps its users travel without actually having to change their environment, or leave the warm embrace of AirSpace…

The connective emotional grid of social media platforms is what drives the impression of AirSpace. If taste is globalized, then the logical endpoint is a world in which aesthetic diversity decreases. It resembles a kind of gentrification: one that happens concurrently across global urban centers. Just as a gentrifying neighborhood starts to look less diverse as buildings are renovated and storefronts replaced, so economically similar urban areas around the world might increasingly resemble each other and become interchangeable…

Yet the AirSpace aesthetic that Airbnb has contributed to, and the geography it creates, limits experiences of difference in the service of comforting a particular demographic (“the vanilla tourist”) falsely defined as the norm. It is a “hallucination of the normal,” as Koolhaas writes. This is the harmful illusion that so much technology, and technological culture, perpetuates: if you do not fit within its predefined structures as an effective user, you must be doing something wrong.

Meet the Unlikely Airbnb Hosts of Japan

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Which brought us back to the challenge at hand. It was hard not to wonder how a company that’s disruptive at its core would be received ultimately in Japan, where harmonious unity — a concept known as wa — is something of a national virtue. How does a storm arrive in a place that’s phobic about storms?…

I asked if she thought Airbnb would eventually take off in Japan. Hayashi considered the question awhile, then gave a kind of yes-and-no answer. “Japanese people are very comfortable with the concept of sharing,” she said, citing the close quarters in which many families lived and the tradition of using sentou, communal bath houses. It’s just that they are less accustomed to sharing with outsiders.

… A number of the Tokyo hosts said they deliberately kept quiet about their involvement with Airbnb. “It’s kind of like talking about your investment portfolio,” one said. “You really only discuss it with the very closest of friends.” Japan has a national hotel law, which requires the licensing of any business that provides accommodation, though enforcement is spotty. But there’s also a tradition of individuals’ renting rooms to students or short-term visitors, called minpaku, which is considered legal. Airbnb, as it does in many countries, exists — nimbly, cannily — in a gray area. Mostly, people feared their neighbors, concerned that one poor interaction with a foreigner — one noisy night, one trampled flower bed, one failure to interpret the boundaries of what was acceptable — might lead to a police complaint or problems with a landlord.

…When new guests checked into a place he managed, he met them personally, showing them how to remove their shoes at the door and explaining that they needed to speak more quietly than maybe they did at home. Sometimes, though, the gulf between cultures felt unbridgeable, the boundaries impossible to translate. Machida described running afoul of a building co-op board, forced to close one of his listings after a visitor from Europe was spotted, to someone’s apparent horror, charging her cellphone in the building’s lobby.

 

 

Airbnb has made it nearly impossible to find a place to live in this city

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When Nicholas Herring’s landlord informed him that he was being evicted so that his apartment could be converted into a full-time Airbnb rental, he was distressed but unsurprised. This is the way of things in Reykjavik now. Herring’s story is not uncommon.

…In many cities, the popularity of short-term vacation rentals like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway has put extra pressure on already stressed housing markets. In Iceland in particular, conditions have conspired to create the perfect Airbnb storm: An unprecedented uptick in tourism combined with a slowdown in the construction of new housing and hotels following the 2008 financial crisis. The surge in tourism helped get Iceland’s economy back on track, with Airbnb making up for the hotel room shortage. But now, while vacation rentals are plentiful, finding a full-time apartment in Iceland’s only major city is next to impossible.

…Last year, Robyn Phaedra Mitchell was told she needed to move out of her apartment so that her landlord’s sick relative could move in. But two days after she moved out, she found her old place listed on Airbnb.

 

 

Discrimination by Airbnb Hosts Is Widespread, Report Says

Commenting on an article of this title that found that “fictional guests set up by the researchers with names like Lakisha or Rasheed were roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with names like Brent or Kristen,” a blogger describes how:

Three times, I’ve had requests to stay at a place denied only to find the space still listed as available hours later. Two of those times, I asked @triciawang to make inquiries at those same spaces to see what would happen and both times she was told to go ahead and book. (Obviously I didn’t take them because who wants to stay at the home of someone who doesn’t want you to?)

As a result, I’ve used @airbnb a lot less over the past two years. I still book on the site occasionally but more often I’ll either have the other (white) people I’m traveling with book the airbnb for us or I avoid the service entirely and stay at hotels.