Shut on the heels of Donald Trump’s thought 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 an extended historical past of firm cities, the plans for what some are calling “Muskville” to this point simply appear like an unusual 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 improvement, not something approaching a big metropolis. (Together with his typical modesty, Musk calls the event “Challenge 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 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 a variety of strain 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 laws of their metropolis council districts. That form 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? To this point, Musk’s proposal simply looks like a typical suburban improvement, growing sprawl whereas not addressing housing price points for lower-income individuals. In accordance with the Journal, Musk has purchased no less than 3500 acres and should attempt to incorporate a brand new city referred to as “Snailbrook” (after the mascot of Musk’s tunnel agency.)
Yet another small, impartial suburb exterior of Austin’s metropolis limits and management will enhance the fragmentation of regional governance, possible 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 bold. Examine Musk’s 110 suburban homes to Google’s “Downtown West” mixed-use improvement in San Jose, CA. Accredited 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 large River Rouge automobile manufacturing unit complicated in Dearborn, exterior of Detroit. As 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 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, turned 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 collection on “the worldwide Jew,” together with the lurid and false “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Dearborn turned often called a “sunset city,” that means Blacks shouldn’t be seen there after sunset. The 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 manage housing and cities, whereas not essentially resulting in the depths that Dearborn reached, is a nasty and anti-democratic thought. The nation is suffering from decayed “firm cities,” usually constructed round extractive industries like coal, timber, and agriculture or a single giant industrial employer. When the financial system adjustments and the dominant employer shrinks or leaves, these cities see sharp and sustained rises in poverty.
After all, the possible 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 clear up the Austin’s area’s housing disaster. As an alternative, the area will possible undergo what many American metros expertise—small discrete suburbs of rich single-family house 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 householders resisting improvement whereas defending skyrocketing housing values.
An actual “Challenge Wonderful” would tackle these issues. However Musk’s comparatively small housing improvement, and even the incorporation of yet another suburban city, will as an alternative simply replicate and contribute to our ongoing housing and concrete disaster.