Is this the solution for the urban struggle? Billionaires building cities from scratch.

With its high home prices, long commutes and one of the highest costs of living in the country, the Bay Area remains one of the most challenging places to live yet one of the most appealing for tech workers.  The industry boom has created a hot bed of economic growth. Yet, the infrastructure and ability to build, whether its housing or schools, hasn’t kept pace.  Lobbying efforts and other collective solutions have done little to create relief. 

Enter the minds of Silicon Valley 

The New York Times is reporting about the plans of a billionaire-led consortium to create a tech-advanced, eco-efficient, idyllic city – one as walkable as Paris – just 45 miles northeast of San Francisco.  

Up until recently, the backers and their vision have been a mystery.  Through public filings, the details are piecing together.  Earlier this summer, the SF Gate reported about a shadowy group buying over 52,000 acres of marsh land around Travis Air Force Base, causing concern it way being bought by a foreign government or other entities. Now, we know more as the group has become the largest land owner in Solano County and is taking more of public role.   According to the Daily Beast, this is the not the first time someone has tried to create a new town in Solano.

The California city being built by tech billionaires

Since 2017, a group called Flannery Associates has been buying up unused or farm land totaling $800 million in over 100 land purchases – all led by a former Goldman Sachs trader. The group’s vision is to create a new city that, according to a poll that went out to local residents:

“would include a new city with tens of thousands of new homes, a large solar energy farm, orchards with over a million new trees, and over 10,000 acres of new parks and open space.”

Poll to Solano County residents, from the NYT

An attorney for Flannery emailed Solano County officials that the group planned to explore “new types of crops or orchards,” and ruled out any cannabis operations. It also said it would create renewable energy and related projects, both according to the Wall Street Journal.

According to Bloomberg, “Although the plans remain nebulous…(they will include) ‘novel methods of design, construction and governance.’” 

A idea backed by the who’s who of tech

According to the Times report, Flannery Associates includes a who’s who of the Silicon Valley, including:

  • Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, of Andreessen Horowitz 
  • Patrick and John Collison, co-founders of Stripe
  • Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder
  • Laurene Powell Jobs, founder of the Emerson Collective and wife of late Steve Jobs

The Wall Street Journal reports that Flannery Associates says 97% of its investors are American citizens and the remaining investors are in the U.K. and Ireland.  Flannery has been mostly silent on the project and its details. Though, the group did email the NYT:

Not the first billionaire-led land buyout

These are not the only billionaires buying up land to possibly create a new American utopia – or at least solve the American housing problem.  According to Bloomberg, Elon Musk has been buying land near a Tesla plant, east of Austin, TX. “Victoria’s Secret billionaire Les Wexner built up New Albany, Ohio, from a tiny community outside of Columbus into one of the state’s toniest addresses. And Larry Ellison, the world’s fourth richest person with a $129 billion fortune, has bought 98% of the island of Lanai and transformed it to be a paradise for the super-rich,” according to the same report

For now, it is clear, this utopian story has many chapters to be written and an uncertain future ahead.

To learn more, Shibani suggests reading the following: