Y Combinator Wants to Design the Future's Perfect City

"We’re not interested in building 'crazy libertarian utopias for techies.'"

The population of the world’s cities is only going up — and it’s starting to get a little cramped. By 2050, the United Nations estimates that 66 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, many of which are struggling with aging infrastructure and a growing housing crisis. Outside of an asteroid strike or another mass extinction event, the human population isn’t going down anytime soon, and they’ve got to go somewhere.

Despite Robert Heinlein’s prediction in 1952 that technology would end that housing crisis, it’s still not over — but a powerful financial group has just set its sights on building the cities of the future. Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley investment firm, is beginning research on a new project to build the cities of the future, which may not look anything like the ones we know today.

At first glance, it’s a high-minded endeavor. The Y Combinator blog mentions the influence of autonomous vehicles and smart grids but wants ideas on how to build a city free from the constraints of existing urban networks. Essentially the idea is simple — if we could design a city from the ground up, like a giant game of Sim City, how would we optimize our living spaces for new technology and fair distribution of resources?

The company is also self-aware of its roots in Silicon Valley and makes it clear that they’re not just spouting off some ideal of an exclusive technocratic wonderland.

“We want to build cities for all humans — for tech and non-tech people,” Adora Cheung, the CEO of Homejoy and Y Combinator investor (and former beneficiary) writes on the company’s blog. “We’re not interested in building ‘crazy libertarian utopias for techies.’”

So yes, at second glance, it’s still a high-minded endeavor. It’s doubtful that the future’s ideal cities are going to be built in an optimized vacuum. But research like the Y Combinator group’s could be vital for giving governments and entrepreneurs a goal to shoot for when they’re trying to update the existing framework of urban life to meet the future. Without an ideal, it’s difficult to inspire change.

You can apply to join the team here.

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