Shut on the heels of Donald Trump’s concept to construct as much as 10 “freedom cities” on federal land come experiences that Elon Musk is planning a “Texas Utopia”—his “personal city” says the Wall Avenue Journal. However though America has a protracted historical past of firm cities, the plans for what some are calling “Muskville” to date simply appear like an extraordinary small suburb, a part of the Austin area’s housing disaster.
Musk is working with Lennar Building, one of many nation’s largest homebuilders, proposing 110 properties in Bastrop County, Texas. That’s solely a housing growth, not something approaching a big metropolis. (Together with his typical modesty, Musk calls the event “Undertaking Wonderful.”)
Bastrop County is a part of the quickly rising Austin-Spherical Rock-Georgetown Metropolitan Statistical Space (MSA), the 28th largest MSA within the 2020 Census. That MSA was the quickest rising space within the nation between 2016 and 2021, with its inhabitants rising 14.1%, pushed by the enlargement not solely of Musk’s companies, however Apple
And fast-growing populations within the U.S. push up housing costs. Within the six years between 2016 and 2021, a federal index measuring housing costs for the Austin area shot up by 83.9%, nearly a 14% annual improve.
So there’s loads of stress to construct housing within the Austin space. However the metropolis of Austin’s most up-to-date mayoral election was gained by long-time Democratic political chief Kirk Watson, who’s seen by opponents as anti-housing, favoring current home-owner management of zoning and constructing rules of their metropolis council districts. That kind of home-owner empowerment typically has meant much less housing in different cities.
Can personal CEOs like Musk step in the place authorities gained’t construct? Up to now, Musk’s proposal simply looks as if a normal suburban growth, rising sprawl whereas not addressing housing price points for lower-income individuals. Based on the Journal, Musk has purchased no less than 3500 acres and should attempt to incorporate a brand new city known as “Snailbrook” (after the mascot of Musk’s tunnel agency.)
Another small, impartial suburb exterior of Austin’s metropolis limits and management will improve the fragmentation of regional governance, seemingly leading to racially and economically segregated housing. (My new e-book from Columbia College Press, Unequal Cities, analyzes this long-standing American metropolitan sample.)
Different tech leaders could also be extra bold. Examine Musk’s 110 suburban homes to Google’s “Downtown West” mixed-use growth in San Jose, CA. Accepted in 2021, the venture would have 4000 housing items (in bigger buildings, not single household homes like “Muskville”). Though Google
Musk’s 110 homes appear fairly small when in comparison with earlier company interventions in housing and city constructing. Henry Ford constructed his large River Rouge automobile manufacturing unit advanced in Dearborn, exterior of Detroit. As town expanded in Ford’s path by way of annexation, Ford helped mastermind an enlargement of Dearborn to maintain his manufacturing unit, and city, from being annexed by Detroit.
Ford efficiently backed a mayoral candidate who needed to merge Dearborn with “Fordson,” an adjoining city bordering on Detroit, making a bigger, extra highly effective, and extra controllable metropolis. His cousin, Clyde Ford, grew to become the primary mayor of the brand new bigger metropolis.
It wasn’t an admirable takeover. Henry managed the native newspaper, the Dearborn Unbiased, the place he revealed a deeply anti-Semitic sequence on “the worldwide Jew,” together with the lurid and false “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Dearborn grew to become often called a “sunset city,” which means Blacks shouldn’t be seen there after sunset. Town later repeatedly elected racist Orville Hubbard as mayor (36 years in workplace), who favored “full segregation” as a result of integration would result in “a mongrel race.”
Permitting CEOs and firms to regulate housing and cities, whereas not essentially resulting in the depths that Dearborn reached, is a foul and anti-democratic concept. The nation is affected by decayed “firm cities,” typically constructed round extractive industries like coal, timber, and agriculture or a single massive industrial employer. When the economic system adjustments and the dominant employer shrinks or leaves, these cities see sharp and sustained rises in poverty.
In fact, the seemingly residents of the 110 homes in “Muskville” gained’t be poor manufacturing unit staff or struggling coal miners. It isn’t clear if Musk will subsidize the housing to permit his technical staff to maneuver in.
However 110 items gained’t resolve the Austin’s area’s housing disaster. As a substitute, the area will seemingly undergo what many American metros expertise—small discrete suburbs of rich single-family dwelling homeowners, a uncoordinated and fragmented financial area, a refusal to construct denser multifamily housing, and anti-housing politics within the core metropolis formed by prosperous owners resisting growth whereas defending skyrocketing housing values.
An actual “Undertaking Wonderful” would tackle these issues. However Musk’s comparatively small housing growth, and even the incorporation of another suburban city, will as a substitute simply mirror and contribute to our ongoing housing and concrete disaster.