The New York Times’ technology correspondent Cade Metz asks “Why Is Silicon Valley Still Waiting for the Next Big Thing?” The truth is that Silicon Valley isn’t just waiting around. Silicon Valley is now in the business of building cities. Everywhere you look, founders are launching efforts to build new communities and entirely new cities. Silicon Valley has answered Marc Andreessen’s call to build, literally.
Google’s Sidewalk Labs helped kickstart this trend, with its (unfortunately now cancelled)redevelopment of Toronto’s Quayside waterfront. Culdesac, a company building a1,000 resident walkable community in Tempe, Arizona, co-founded by Y Combinator alumnus Ryan Johnson, just announced a $30 million Series A raise. Jet.com founder and Walmart eCommerce executive Marc Lore is planning to build Telosa, a 5 million resident city of the future somewhere in the American West. Before he builds a city on Mars, Elon Musk is building a city in Texas around the SpaceX launch site. Silicon Valley is enthralled with Próspera, a new city focused partly on the remote work economy, located on the Honduran island of Roatán. Pronomos Capital, a venture firm for charter cities and similar projects led by seasteading pioneer Patri Friedman, has deep Silicon Valley roots. And much of the support for and interest in the Charter Cities Institute comes from the Bay Area.
Tech’s fascination with new city building transcends continents. Africa’s premier technology entrepreneurs are leading the charge to build new cities throughout the continent. Mwiya Musokotwane is building Nkwashi, a new city in Zambia outside of Lusaka, as the linchpin of a broader strategy to make Zambia Africa’s principal technology hub. And he isn’t alone. Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder of Andela and former managing director of Flutterwave, is building Talent City to cement Lagos’ status as Africa’s Silicon Valley. Tech, whether in the Bay Area or in Africa, understands the inherent value of building community and the power of agglomeration in driving innovation.
The motivations in Silicon Valley for building new cities are varied. San Francisco continues to descend into madness as NIMBYs and poor governance strangle the city that had all the right ingredients to become the most extraordinary city in the world. Most of America’s other productive and innovative metros suffer from similar problems to lesser degrees. There is widespread recognition that virtually all of America’s governing institutions are terminally sclerotic. Although there are voices fighting against this, technological, scientific, and economic progress are under threat. Abroad, the leaders of burgeoning tech scenes know their existing cities are not well equipped to support dynamic, innovative economies.
It should come as no surprise that given the scale of these problems, many in Silicon Valley are choosing exit and desire to build something new. Nearly a decade after Peter Thiel lamented that Silicon Valley gave us 140 characters when we wanted flying cars, we’re finally seeing a concerted effort to support innovation in atoms rather than bits. For some founders, this means building new cities where, perhaps, the barriers to creating flying cars will finally be torn down.