The origins of Kift –consciously and not– have been brewing in my mind for a long time.
With my first company, Control Group, a digital/physical technology company we founded in New York, we had a vision that the Internet was coming into physical spaces. And when it came into cities, we aimed to shape it into something we called a “Responsive City”: a city that could morph and respond to the needs and wants of people in real-time.
After Sidewalk Labs acquired Control Group and created Intersection, we took this concept further with LinkNYC. Through technology and insights, we were able to understand something new about the city and change digital screens in real-time all across New York City to create the first version of The Responsive City.
I eventually decided it was time to leave New York and experience a different part of this world. I knew I wanted to start another company, to continue to influence this evolutionary trajectory we are on, and there are only a few places that could support my flavor of crazy ideas.
When I first thought about moving to California from Brooklyn, I was conflicted. I felt like I needed to live in the city for work and culture, and I couldn’t decide between Los Angeles and San Francisco. LA felt exciting and creative and close to New-York-scale, with sunny beaches and deserts and mountains close-by. San Francisco felt walkable, like a little bougie chunk of Brooklyn dropped on the west coast - and of course, there was Silicon Valley, the epicenter of American startup culture (but also of soulless sprawl). But part of me was craving more than what a city alone could offer. After 20 years in NYC, maybe it was time to live in nature. I dreamt about the redwoods, wine country, the mountains; Tahoe, Shasta. And what about the Pacific Northwest, and check out Portland or Seattle?
I realized that I didn’t want to compromise: I was looking for the freedom to be in the mountains to hike, to explore the deserts and travel the coast all while still having the option to live in a city whenever I wanted.
I looked at vanlife and got excited - especially over the new smaller sprinter-type campers that were coming out. I could travel around and make my home anywhere. This seemed like a good idea, but what about community? How would I make friends and find collaborators, without a bustling city full of driven people working on exciting projects? And where would I park my van? I wasn’t psyched to sleep on the side of the road or in a Walmart parking lot, struggle to find reliable WiFI, or get my van broken into when I visited the city.
It was about this time that I discovered the Haight Street Commons: a network of community houses, as they call them in San Francisco (being a salty New Yorker, I love to call them communes). These houses of 10 to 50 people are the real deal. The DIY, unsanitized version of co-living where people aren’t afraid to form tight relationships. Where they really live together, hang out, collaborate on art or work together, play music, cook meals, organize political or social initiatives together, and treat each other like chosen family.
That’s when it clicked. If I took the freedom of vanlife and combined it with the community I had found at Agape, the community house where I’ve made my home base in SF, we could not only have the best of both worlds, but we would be continuing down the path of building a truly responsive city. After all, campervans are movable buildings that we have today.
That’s why I started Kift— an unassuming project with big ambitions that brings together vans, beautiful sites, shared spaces, and community in a dynamic and flexible way. We are building a collection of unique locations across the West, in cities, forests, deserts and coast; from San Diego to Seattle, the Rockies to the Pacific, and everywhere in between so you don’t have to choose where you want to live (don’t worry New York, we’ll get there eventually). Your van acts as your mobile bedroom on wheels, your private space with all your personal stuff. The community houses are the spaces for us to share, with all the basic things we all need; Wi-Fi, a nice bathroom, stocked fridge and pantry, and a comfy place to work or relax. A place to gather, hang out, meet people, share experiences, to work during the day and laugh and dream at night.
If we can get dozens of people to live together productively and happily, moving between numerous locations in different beautiful places, why can’t we eventually scale it up to a fully reconfigurable city of hundreds, or thousands? Or tens of thousands? And what would that city look like if those campervans got a little bigger and more comfortable, if they were electric and autonomous? And what if we could collectively come together to manage our system through the growing ecosystem of Web3 technology? I’ve realized that that’s the mission that I have been on all along. It will take a while, but it’s a North Star and, as crazy as it sounds, it’s starting to feel inevitable.