Is Elon Musk Building A Trump ‘Freedom City?’ No—It’s A Suburb

Shut on the heels of Donald Trump’s concept to construct as much as 10 “freedom cities” on federal land come reviews 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” thus far 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 houses 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 “Undertaking 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 enlargement not solely of Musk’s corporations, however Apple
, Samsung and Oracle.

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 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 current house owner management of zoning and constructing rules of their metropolis council districts. That kind of house owner empowerment typically has meant much less housing in different cities.

Can non-public CEOs like Musk step in the place authorities gained’t construct? Thus far, Musk’s proposal simply looks as if a normal suburban improvement, rising sprawl whereas not addressing housing value points for lower-income folks. In keeping with the Journal, Musk has purchased a minimum of 3500 acres and will attempt to incorporate a brand new city referred to as “Snailbrook” (after the mascot of Musk’s tunnel agency.)

Yet one more small, impartial suburb outdoors of Austin’s metropolis limits and management will enhance the fragmentation of regional governance, seemingly leading to racially and economically segregated housing. (My new ebook from Columbia College Press, Unequal Cities, analyzes this long-standing American metropolitan sample.)

Different tech leaders could also be extra formidable. Evaluate Musk’s 110 suburban homes to Google’s “Downtown West” mixed-use improvement in San Jose, CA. Accepted in 2021, the undertaking would have 4000 housing models (in bigger buildings, not single household homes like “Muskville”). Though Google
is slowing the undertaking’s workplace building within the undertaking because it reassesses its wants for workplace area, San Jose officers hope the housing building will proceed.

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 car manufacturing unit advanced in Dearborn, outdoors of Detroit. As town expanded in Ford’s route by 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 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, turned the primary mayor of the brand new bigger metropolis.

It wasn’t an admirable takeover. Henry managed the native newspaper, the Dearborn Impartial, 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 referred to as a “sunset city,” that 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 nasty 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 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 seemingly residents of the 110 homes in “Muskville” gained’t be poor manufacturing unit employees or struggling coal miners. It isn’t clear if Musk will subsidize the housing to permit his technical employees to maneuver in.

However 110 models gained’t clear up the Austin’s area’s housing disaster. As an alternative, the area will seemingly undergo what many American metros expertise—small discrete suburbs of rich single-family residence 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 owners resisting improvement whereas defending skyrocketing housing values.

An actual “Undertaking Superb” would tackle these issues. However Musk’s comparatively small housing improvement, and even the incorporation of another suburban city, will as an alternative simply replicate and contribute to our ongoing housing and concrete disaster.

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