Musk strikes again: this time with his latest venture into the world of company towns and utopias.
Nobody does random quite like Elon Musk. From releasing his very own perfume to buying Twitter, manufacturing cars, and developing Space X, the 51-year-old tech titan is a jack of all trades – and a master at quite a few of them too. His latest venture is one that, if pondered carefully, was to be expected: he is launching his very own company town.
What exactly is a company town?
In short, company towns are villages made up of dwellings and businesses which are all owned by the same entity. Such towns often emerge when a company requires a significant labor force in a remote location, prompting the need for housing, infrastructure, and essential services that pop up pretty much out of nowhere. They have been around for centuries, and in fact peaked during the industrial revolution, when production and quantity were at the forefront of any business. This is quite logical once one understands that a company quite literally controlling the living and working of its employers is the synonym for efficiency. One such example is New Lanark, a small industrial mill village in Scotland founded by Rober Owen, which now merits the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and is often studied in architecture and politics for its pioneering use of policy.
Company towns are the capitalist dream. Through a very insular set of amenities, housing, and provisions, the “ruling entity” provides workers with a standard of living that ensures their maximum productivity at work. Many criticise it for being an extremely authoritarian model of living, as company towns rely heavily on the ruling body due to hosting a very non-diverse economic landscape. This means that if anything goes wrong, there is no such thing as “let me just go and switch jobs”, since the entire economy and life of a family is governed by the same people.
So, What’s Elon Musk’s Company Town All About?
The town goes by Snailbrook. It was first established in 2021 and has a current sum total of 12 inhabitants – but bound to increase steadily in the coming years. It is in close proximity to Musk’s Boring Company facilities, the future Tesla Gigafactory and the potential Space X infrastructures in Texas, and around where Musk is rumored to have bought over 6,000 acres of land to build affordable housing for his workers.
Image courtesy of Daily Mail
Planning for the town, operating under the name “Project Amazing – Phase I,” has been submitted, reflecting Musk’s characteristic flair. Leading the project is Miami-based construction company Lennar, known for its involvement in other ambitious endeavors such as constructing 3D housing alongside architectural giant BIG.
Although Musk’s utopian vision was initially dismissed as an internet rumor, recent images confirm that Snailbrook is indeed well underway. While it is yet to be incorporated into Bastrop County, a mere 201 residents and approval from a county judge would suffice. In the meantime, the location already boasts several mobile homes, a swimming pool, an outdoor recreational area, and a fitness center.
Image courtesy of Daily Mail
How wrong could it go?
The answer is: a fair bit.
While successful company towns are not unheard of, there is a trend towards them becoming more dystopian than utopian – a concern shared by many online. This is a man who promised to colonize Mars after all. Don’t take our word for it though, let history shine through.
In the 1920s, American industrialist Henry Ford embarked on a grand vision: to establish Fordlandia, a self-sufficient rubber plantation in the Amazon rainforest. Yet, this ambitious project ultimately crumbled under a series of misjudgments, environmental challenges, and clashes with local culture.
One of the primary pitfalls was Ford’s attempt to transplant an American town into the heart of the Amazon. With its imported housing, hospitals, schools, and even a golf course, Fordlandia ignored the unique needs and dynamics of the local workforce and indigenous communities, fueling cultural conflicts and resentment.
Pullman was a company town built by George Pullman, the famous industrialist, in the late 19th century. Despite its initially impressive infrastructure and amenities, the town faced labor strikes, economic downturns, and declining profitability, leading to its decline and eventual absorption into the city of Chicago.
But also, how good could it get?
There are two sides to every coin. Whilst company towns are embedded with paternalistic traits and an eerie dystopian tinge, not all examples have been significant failures.
Bournville is a notable company town developed by the Cadbury chocolate company, first established back in 1879. The town features well-designed homes, green spaces, and community amenities, and although it has lost its initial governing arrangements, it remains a desirable residential area known for its high standard of living.
Hershey, Pennsylvania, is a well-known and successful company town built around the Hershey Chocolate Company. The town offers a range of amenities, including Hersheypark, Hershey’s Chocolate World, and the Milton Hershey School, which provides education to underprivileged children.