The Exchange House and Backyard
In Akron, Ohio, a vacant building that was once a school supply store has been transformed into the Exchange House, a gathering space and hostel for travelers seeking a culturally immersive experience.
The Exchange House is located in North Akron, an international neighborhood home to people from Nepal, Bhutan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, and more. Beyond providing a gathering space and lodging, the Exchange House is also working to build a coalition of multicultural leaders in North Akron.
The organization that initiated the effort was Better Block Foundation, a national nonprofit focused on design tactics that reactivate vacant spaces. With community support, Better Block identified a vacant building in North Akron as the future home of the Exchange House due to its centralized location and proximity to the main street corridor. With a $155,000 Knight Foundation grant, Better Block purchased the property and started rehabilitation. Shortly after purchase Better Block transferred ownership to the newly formed North Akron Community Development Corporation, which was charged with turning the Exchange House idea into a reality.
Exchange House’s ground floor now hosts cultural events in partnership with North Akron’s immigrant communities. It also houses a health clinic, martial arts class for kids, ESL classes, a worship space, and celebrations from birthday parties to weddings. In addition to event space rental fees, three Airbnb rooms upstairs generate revenue for the operations at the Exchange House. Visitors are encouraged to patronize local businesses that occupy the neighborhood’s main street, just one block away.
The North Akron Community Development Corporation leveraged the success of the Exchange House to activate other vacant properties in the neighborhood. The Backyard, adjacent to the Exchange House, was once an abandoned parking lot but now serves an informal gathering space with picnic tables, market stalls, a bonfire pit, and lounge furniture. The Backyard hosts community dinners, concerts, markets, and festivals.
Property Type: Residential Lot (no structure)
Project Type/ New Use: Art – Small Scale (e.g. painting; performance; visual), Live/Work Space
Project Purpose: Community engagement
Initial Cost: Over $250,000
Funding Source: Philanthropic
Organization Type: Nonprofit - Other
Implementation Partners: Nonprofit – Arts & Culture
Community Type: Urban
Project website: The Exchange House >
Organization website: North Akron CDC >
Press: The Exchange House: A Multicultural Gathering Space and AirBnB >; The Exchange House: A renaissance in Akron’s international neighborhood