Reinventing the city for the post-car era.
The line between what’s considered a technology business and what's considered a traditional business is blurring all the time. As a result, technology leaders are more and more drawn to make the leap from building the digital world to building reality. One specific way this desire manifests itself is in their ambition to build better cities. Somehow they aren’t deterred by the failure of Sidewalk Toronto, the most infamous example of big tech trying to build a city. Instead of a technology-driven approach, the new patch of technology leaders is more inspired by the idea of building a physical community of like-minded people at scale.
Balaji Srinivasan, Former CTO of Coinbase and partner at Andreessen Horowitz even goes one step further by calling “Startup Cities” one of the tech trends for the next decade. This evolution is powered by technology and super-charged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The main thesis is that location has become irrelevant. People have come to the conclusion that the specific advantages of being at a specific location (e.g. access to capital, schooling, enterprise sales channels…) have mostly been replaced by alternatives that are available irrespective of location.
A startup city in the lingo of Balaji can have three definitions:
A city where startups happen, what San Francisco used to be prior to the current exodus.
A city that acts like a startup, like Miami or Dubai.
A city that is a startup itself.
The third version is the most interesting definition for a weekly Proptech newsletter to dive into. Banking on the idea that future physical community will be built on a shared vision or interest (e.g. libertarianism, debt-free living, tax optimization, …), a bunch of companies are trying to found new cities. In the case of Culdesac, the vision is the car-free neighborhood.
Culdesac is a real estate developer dedicated to building car-free neighborhoods. Their first project is being built right now in Tempe, Arizona, and will open in 2022. Their first development will be the home of 1000 persons and 0 private cars.
There will off course be alternative transportation options like on-site light rail, shared scooters, and hourly rentable car-sharing. The space that normally would go to parking space can be used as public courtyards and greenery.
Conceptual rendering courtesy Culdesac
The goal of Culdesac is to build the 5-minute city, thereby improving the more famous 15-minute city concept. Providing everything to live a happy and fulfilling life available in a 5-minute radius. To achieve this special care is given in selecting local service providers and providing bookable spaces for the community.
Culdesac was founded by Ryan Johnson, who previously was on the founding team of Opendoor, and Jeff Berens, previously from McKinsey. They got accepted into YCombinator and from there raised $17 million in venture capital funding and decided on Tempe as their first post-car development test case.
🕵️♀️ Who else?
Many city founding initiatives are in the works in varying degrees of completion.
On the one hand, more economically inspired examples are for example Starbase, the city that SpaceX is building in Texas, Nkwashi a self-contained satellite town in Zambia, or Prospera a chartered city that Honduras is launching.
In the more ecologically inspired department, we find Regen Villages, off-grid eco-villages, a couple of seasteading initiatives coming out of the Seasteading Institute motivated by the desire to found floating ocean cities, and also Cyclocroft inspired both by the FIRE Movement and the bicycle-centered views on urban development of the movement’s leader Mr. Money Mustache leading to a people-first, eco-friendly-designed town.
Who wouldn’t want to live in a community with this type of logo? Image courtesy Mr. Money Mustache
Few things are more powerful than voluntarily bringing people together around a common goal or vision. People who self-select into coming to live into a community that is organized around certain principles will be happier and better integrated into the social fabric of that community.
Building a walkable neighborhood, removing cars from the equation not only frees acreage that can be used to increase neighborhood density and amenities but also increases the likelihood that local traders have sufficient sales to sustain, creating positive feedback loops for the local economy.
👎 Why not?
The question remains whether having zero-private cars is enough of a unique selling proposition to build a strong community. Arguably the choice-supportive bias is more powerful when you decide to live in a floating city, than in a Culdesac neighborhood.
📚 Further reading?
They are still working on the best ways to discourage private car use.