Tech billionaires want to build a new city in California

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The people who built the Internet are trying to build a city.

Who is Silicon Valley’s billionaires – Marc AndresSen, John Doerr, Reed Hoffman, Michael Moritz, and Laurene Powell Jobs – among them – support the urban aspirations of entrepreneur Jan Sramek. his company, California foreverHe reportedly spent $800 million secretly Purchasing 50,000 acres From the ground in Solano County, an hour and a half northwest of San Francisco, with the goal of turning it into a walkable urban paradise.

“This is not just our idea,” the company’s website says, citing two regional development plans that identify the target area as a good location for new communities. The problem is: those plans date back 1959 And 1970 respectively. the Latest plan, approved by local elected officials in 2021, doesn’t see it that way. The plan concluded that Solano County is “less suitable for growth” due to “relatively limited job centers and transportation options coupled with wildfire risks.” (California Forever did not respond to questions for this story.)

Coun case

It’s easy to be skeptical if you drive into the low hills of Solano County, next to the estuary where the Sacramento River empties into San Francisco Bay. It is now grazing land, too far from the ocean to enjoy the cooler climate of the Peninsula or the East Bay. It is hot most of the year, and is only accessible via a two-lane highway.

Jim Spearing, a member of the Regional Planning Commission who has been an elected official in Solano County since 1987, says the “California Forever” idea makes no sense to him. Local development has focused on existing cities and reflects available transportation and water options. Adding tens of thousands of new residents would stress that infrastructure. “If their intentions were honorable, they would have met with county and city staff and elected officials and really talked about what they were trying to do,” Spearing says.

The mouth of San Francisco Bay in Solano County.

The mouth of San Francisco Bay in Solano County.
picture: Tim Fernholz

The billionaires behind “California Forever” are also unreliable narrators, to say the least. Some, after all, are The same people who raised more than $7 billion to invest in “web3” after publishing an article dedicated to the importance of building real things. Now California Forever is making a charm offensive to convince voters to approve Its plans (and approval of the public investments necessary to achieve these plans). Without this green light, the project may fail completely.

Build, build, build

There is no doubt that the wider Gulf region needs more private investment in new housing. But planners like Spearing would like this to be done more efficiently: by placing homes near jobs, for example, or at least next to a transit line, rather than hours away.

Sarah says there are certainly many parts of the Bay Area that are better suited for sustainable housing development Karlinsky is a senior consultant at SPUR, the Society for San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research. Examples of mega projects such as: Mercedes parking And Treasure Islandthe Plan For redevelopment An old naval base in nearby Concord.

But Karlinsky admits that “everything we’re doing now is not promoting housing affordability…and when you start thinking about this new city in that context, it makes one think, is this a potential opportunity?” In the park outside Fairfield City Hall in Solano on a hot Friday afternoon, dozens of seemingly homeless people were living proof of her point.

Views of Solano County.

Views of Solano County.
picture: Tim Fernholz

Karlinsky and SPUR want more details about California Forever before offering opinions on the project. Former SPUR leader Gabriel Metcalf also happens to be California Forever’s director of planning, Karlinski noted. Article 2014 Written by Metcalfe may shed light on his plans. He discusses the efforts of UK city planners to build new towns to alleviate London’s housing problems: “The right way to manage growth is to create another generation of new towns, beyond the green belt, or as (historian Sir Peter Hall) put it, ‘beyond the boundaries of “NIMBY.”

Brief, non-exhaustLong history of wealthy city building

Builders will build. Corporate imperialists who reach a certain stage of greatness tend to find themselves resorting to building cities as a means of solving problems or demonstrating their power.

Pullman, Illinois. The city was developed by industrialist George Pullman to support (and control) the workers who built the railroad cars of the same name. It has been hailed as a modern marvel When it was built in the 1880s. However, after A Dozens of striking workers It was killed by American forces in 1894, public opinion soured about the city, and it was incorporated into Chicago after Pullman’s death. Another blue-collar town from the same era, Hershey, Pennsylvaniais still around and thriving.

Fordlandia. In 1928, Henry Ford tried to build a city in Brazil, with the aim of providing rubber supplies for his cars. But the plan failed among the local residents revolt against Ford’s paternalistic control over their diet and behavior, and none of the rubber got into his cars.

Disney Ready Creek. The land where Walt Disney Company’s Florida theme park operates has been in the news since the company’s founding I got one On Gov. Ron Deesagainst. Technically a Special tax areaReedy Creek gives the company political control of about 40 square milesincluding 134 miles of roads, visited by 250,000 people daily.

Starbase and Snellbrook. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been developing a launch site and testing facility near Boca Chica, Texas, for nearly a decade. On Twitter, Musk hoped to make it a reality A city called StarbaseBut it seems she hasn’t done anything about it yet. Musk has also made moving plans to build… A town called Snellbrook near Austin to serve his companies’ employees. The Public Prosecution is investigating Whether Tesla used company funds to build a glass house for Musk is in the region.

One thing 🏙️

Cities are not just buildings and people; They are the product of local customs and laws. Economists have noted the importance of such institutions in driving prosperity, and some have proposed the idea of ​​“Charter cities“In poor countries, it is inspired by places like Hong Kong, the Chinese city that flourished under British rule. Paul Romer, former chief economist at the World Bank, has supported such a project in Honduras, but It ended in failure After a struggle to control the private municipality.

The same principle underlies Peter Thiel’s support The idea of ​​maritime stabilityCommunities floating in international waters can develop their political systems in a libertarian style. None of these recent projects have actually taken off, perhaps because cities are emergent properties of human activity. They need the intersection of democratic energy and geographic necessity if they are to succeed.

Thanks for reading! Don’t hesitate to do so Connect with us With comments, questions, or topics you want to know more about.

Have an urban weekend!

—Tim Fernholz, Senior Reporter

(tags for translation) Musk

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