With a federal eviction moratorium set to expire on Friday and unemployment benefits ending on July 31st, an estimated 20 million Americans are at risk of eviction. In the midst of this uncertainty, TechCrunch reports that a San Francisco-based startup called Kibbo is aiming “to upgrade the American trailer park, making it a network of intentional communities for the remote-working, previously urban professionals.”
The Kibbo vision features exclusive RV parks that resemble co-living and co-working spaces with amenities, food, gyms, and recreational facilities. On its website, Kibo says that "less than the cost of living in a studio apartment" (a $1,000 per month membership plus a $1,000 per month to rent a vehicle) they'll give you a Mercedes Sprinter, a "network of home bases across the West" from Los Angeles and the Bay Area to Big Sur and Black Rock Desert, "essential groceries and provisions,” and, most importantly, "an inclusive, adventurous community.” Underpinning all this seems to be the belief that working from home is the future of work.
Kibbo has Silicon Valley utopian urbanism in its DNA. Kibbo co-founder Colin O'Donnell was the "chief innovation officer" of Intersection, which billed itself as an “urban experience company.” You may be familiar with at least one of its products, namely the “giant data-harvesting surveillance cameras” all across New York City, also known as LinkNYC kiosks. In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio hailed LinkNYC as "a critical step toward a more equal, open, and connected city" that would replace payphones with free wi-fi for all. By 2019, only 25 percent of the promised surveillance kiosks had been built and they were largely clustered in Manhattan.
It’s worth noting that Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, another company concerned with the “urban experience,” created Intersection by leading a group of investors to acquire and merge two separate companies (Control Group and Titan Outdoor). For the past few years, Sidewalk Labs has been trying to make Toronto’s waterfront into a “smart city” by digitizing urban life in ways indistinguishable from privatization and creating infrastructure that doubles as surveillance. And after years of fierce criticism and pushback from residents and civil liberties groups, the project was finally abandoned.
Given his history at Intersection, O'Donnell's new project makes a little more sense. All these projects offer some sort of infrastructure for moving more of public life into private hands with promises like free wi-fi, lower costs of living, or an improved “urban experience.”
O’Donnell told TechCrunch that "we're making a bet that the future of cities is electric, autonomous, distributed, renewable and user-generated."
Over the past few years, investors have been buying up mobile homes and trailer parks. For investors, such communities are seen as reliable streams of income with huge potential for staggering returns. The Washington Post reported that residents of communities bought up by investors are "reporting substantial rent increases, aggressive fees for small infractions and escalating evictions." Frank Rolfe, one investor who owned thousands of mobile-home lots, referred to the income as "a Waffle House where the customers are chained to their booths."
Kibbo’s vision seems like a more reliable way to make co-living/co-working profitable and realize the dream of WeWork’s disgraced co-founder and former CEO Adam Neumann: a twisted capitalist version of a commune. In a pandemic-stricken world, it’s no longer trendy office buildings on the menu, but trailer parks.