Shut on the heels of Donald Trump’s concept to construct as much as 10 “freedom cities” on federal land come stories that Elon Musk is planning a “Texas Utopia”—his “personal city” says the Wall Road Journal. However though America has a protracted historical past of firm cities, the plans for what some are calling “Muskville” to this point simply seem like an bizarre small suburb, a part of the Austin area’s housing disaster.
Musk is working with Lennar Development, one of many nation’s largest homebuilders, proposing 110 houses 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 “Challenge Superb.”)
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 growth 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%, virtually a 14% annual enhance.
So there’s plenty 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 present home-owner management of zoning and constructing rules of their metropolis council districts. That kind of home-owner empowerment usually has meant much less housing in different cities.
Can non-public CEOs like Musk step in the place authorities gained’t construct? Up to now, Musk’s proposal simply looks as if a typical suburban growth, growing sprawl whereas not addressing housing price points for lower-income folks. In keeping with the Journal, Musk has purchased at the least 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 enhance the fragmentation of regional governance, probably leading to racially and economically segregated housing. (My new guide from Columbia College Press, Unequal Cities, analyzes this long-standing American metropolitan sample.)
Different tech leaders could also be extra formidable. Examine Musk’s 110 suburban homes to Google’s “Downtown West” mixed-use growth in San Jose, CA. Permitted in 2021, the undertaking 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 huge River Rouge automobile manufacturing unit advanced in Dearborn, exterior of Detroit. As the town expanded in Ford’s route by means of annexation, Ford helped mastermind an growth of Dearborn to maintain his manufacturing unit, and city, from being annexed by Detroit.
Ford efficiently backed a mayoral candidate who wished 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 generally known as 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 corporations 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,” usually constructed round extractive industries like coal, timber, and agriculture or a single giant industrial employer. When the financial system modifications and the dominant employer shrinks or leaves, these cities see sharp and sustained rises in poverty.
After all, the probably 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 remedy the Austin’s area’s housing disaster. As a substitute, the area will probably undergo what many American metros expertise—small discrete suburbs of rich single-family dwelling house owners, a uncoordinated and fragmented financial area, a refusal to construct denser multifamily housing, and anti-housing politics within the core metropolis formed by prosperous householders resisting growth whereas defending skyrocketing housing values.
An actual “Challenge Superb” would tackle these issues. However Musk’s comparatively small housing growth, and even the incorporation of yet one more suburban city, will as an alternative simply replicate and contribute to our ongoing housing and concrete disaster.