Sun. May 26th, 2024

11 billionaires trying to build their own utopias, from Elon Musk’s Mars colony and Bill Gates’ Smart City Belmont, to Peter Thiel’s Seasteads and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s ‘The Line’ Neom

  • From Elon Musk’s string of towns in Texas and Mars colony, to Peter Thiel’s seasteads in the French Polynesia, these billionaires play by their own rules so why not build a utopia if it suits them?
  • Bill Gates has plans to build his smart city Belmont in Arizona while Mark Cuban bought Mustang as a promise to his dead friend, but the most ambitious of all is Saudi Arabia Crown Prince’s Neom

Over the years, billionaires and executives have poured millions into building their own utopias.

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Elon Musk plans to build a town named “Snailbrook”, but he is far from the only billionaire or entrepreneur to discuss building his own kingdom of sorts.

From Larry Ellison to Peter Thiel, here are 11 billionaires who have taken similar steps.

1. Elon Musk’s “Snailbrook”, “Starbase” and Mars colony

Tesla CEO Elon Musk leaves the Phillip Burton Federal Building on January 24, in San Francisco, US. Photo: TNS
Musk is planning to build his own town for SpaceX and The Boring Company workers outside of Austin, Texas.

The billionaire and his associates have bought up at least 1,400 hectares of land in Bastrop, Texas, about 56km outside of Austin. Signs for a town called “Snailbrook” – a reference to The Boring Company’s mascot – have already begun popping up in the area, Texas resident Chap Ambrose said.

It’s not the first time the billionaire has talked about building a town. Musk has said he plans to form a city near SpaceX’s launch facilities as well.

Elon Musk arrives to watch as Inspiration4 crew members prepare to leave for their flight on the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon at launch Pad 39A at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in September 2021. Photo: AFP

In 2021, billionaire announced his plans to create a new city called “Starbase” in Boca Chica, Texas, about 563km from Snailbrook. While SpaceX employees have taken over much of Boca Chica, it’s unclear whether Musk ever fully established the city. An official municipality of Starbase has yet to be reported.

A screengrab from SpaceX’s live webcast that shows the Starship SN15 landing in Texas, US, in May 2021. Photo: AFP

But Texans near both locations have spoken out against the billionaire’s efforts. Last week, several hundred Texans gathered at a meeting in Bastrop to comment on The Boring Company’s plans to dump 142,000 of treated waste water per day into the Colorado River. Similarly, in Boca Chica, locals have sued SpaceX, claiming its rocket tests have caused public beaches to be continually closed and have negatively impacted wildlife.

And of course there’s also Musk’s plan to build a self-sustaining city on Mars.

SpaceX owner Elon Musk said he was highly confident his company could transport humans to Mars by 2026. Photo: TNS

Last year, Musk said he anticipates colonising Mars will be “cramped, difficult, hard work”, as previously reported. He has said he hopes the people that would colonise Mars would take the opportunity to “rethink society”.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk speaks about the Interplanetary transport system that aims to reach Mars with the first human crew in history in Guadalajara, Mexico, in September 2016. Photo: AFP

“It’s very important to emphasise that Mars, especially in the beginning, will not be luxurious,” Musk said.

2. Marc Lore’s futuristic “Telosa”

Former Walmart CEO Marc Lore attends an event in New York City, in October 2017. Photo: Getty Images

In 2021, former Walmart CEO Marc Lore announced plans to build a futuristic utopia called “Telosa”. The name comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “highest purpose”.

At the time, Lore said he wanted to build an egalitarian utopia that about 50,000 people could call home by as soon as 2030. Lore has said the city would be governed by “equitism”, which appears to be a mix of equality and capitalism.

Marc Lore speaks onstage during Fast Company Innovation Festival at 92nd Street in New York City, in October 2017. Photo: Getty Images

The website estimates the endeavour would cost about US$400 billion and says citizens would likely be selected through an application process. It is unclear where Lore’s plans for the futuristic city stand today.

3. Peter Thiel’s Seasteads

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies and Founders Fund, holds hundred-dollar bills as he speaks during the bitcoin 2022 Conference at Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami, Florida, in April 2022. Photo: Getty Images

Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel also had a plan for a utopian city. In 2008, he launched a mission to develop a floating city, called a seastead, that would operate independently from existing nations as a small, self-sufficient island.

Peter Thiel speaks at The New York Times DealBook conference in New York City, in November 2018. Photo: AFP

The group made early strides in planning to build the inorganic detachable island chain off French Polynesia and had an initial agreement with the country, but the government said in 2018 that its contract with the Seasteading Institute had become “obsolete” and “does not bind the country in any way”.

The Seasteading Institute started the Floating Island Project backed by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Photo: The Seasteading Institute

Thiel left The Seasteading Institute’s board in 2011, but to this day, the Seasteading Institute continues to promote the idea on its website.

4. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s city “The Line”

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the second edition of the summit of the Green Middle East Initiative held on the sidelines of the COP27 climate conference at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. Photo: Reuters
In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is constructing a city named “The Line” as part of a larger development called Neom.

The Saudi Crown Prince has directed officials to create a city on the scale of the pyramids of Egypt.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s extravagant US$1 trillion mega-project Neom in Saudi Arabia could redefine luxury holidays in the nation. Photo: Neom

Neom is intended to house millions of people, the majority of whom will live on The Line – a set of two parallel 120km-long skyscrapers that will house residences and facilities, including a high-speed train, sports stadium and yacht marina.

5. Bill Gates’ smart city “Belmont”

Microsoft founder Bill Gates speaks during the Global Fund Seventh Replenishment Conference in New York City, in September 2022. Photo: TNS
Gates is no stranger to building companies, mansions and now – a smart city. In 2017, Gates invested about US$80 million into plans for a smart city outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

A subsidiary of Gates’ investment firm bought land in southwestern Arizona for the construction of an around-10,000-hectare development consisting of residences, public schools, and office, commercial, and retail space, AZ Central reported. The publication said the city would be known as “Belmont”.

Billionaire Bill Gates has high hopes for his smart city Belmont. Photo: @thisisbillgates/Instagram

The agency that holds the property, Belmont Partners, said at the time that it would be designed to feature high-speed networks, data centres, autonomous cars, new manufacturing technologies and automated logistics hubs. It’s unclear what has happened with the plans for the development since 2017.

6. Larry Ellison’s Ultrawealthy Island

Larry Ellison is the co-founder and CEO of Oracle. Photo: @OracleCloud/Twitter

Larry Ellison has taken a less futuristic, more luxurious approach. In 2012, the Oracle co-founder bought about 98 per cent of Hawaiian island Lanai for about US$300 million, according to Bloomberg. After acquiring the land, he added a Nobu, created a resort with a wellness centre and renovated the existing hotels on the island.

The Oracle Waterfront Campus entrance. Photo: Shutterstock

Since, the island, which is home to about 3,000 people, has become a destination for the ultrawealthy, counting the likes of Tom Cruise, Cindy Crawford and Will Smith as visitors, per Architectural Digest. Ellison himself moved to the island full time in 2020.

Four Seasons Resorts Lanai is a popular destination for A-listers. Photo: @fslanai/Instagram

David Murdock bought the land in 1985. Before that, the island was controlled by James Dole, the man who established the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, which later became Dole Food Company.

7. Les Wexner’s  own town in Ohio

Les Wexner (left) and Stella Maxwell pose at the 2016 Fragrance Foundation Awards in New York City, in June 2016. Photo: Getty Images

Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Bodywork’s billionaire Les Wexner built up his own town in Ohio.

Wexner decided to build his country home in New Albany, Ohio in the 1980s, Bloomberg reported in 2019. Since, he’s built his own 30-room mansion in the community and acquired around 4,050 hectares of land around it – buying up the entire town, per the same publication.

Jeffrey Epstein reportedly had a hand in helping the billionaire create the town and invested millions of dollars into the project, New York Magazine reported in 2019.

8. Mark Cuban’s small town Mustang

Shark Tank host Mark Cuban. Photo: @scoutible/Instagram
Billionaire investor Mark Cuban bought Mustang, Texas in 2021. The long-time Shark Tank host bought the small town for about US$2 million as a favour to a dying friend, Marty Price.
Dallas billionaire Mark Cuban during his recent appearance at Venture Dallas 2022 at the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Photo: TNS

Price owned the town with two others and did not want his wife to inherit a ghost town, The New York Times reported at the time.

9. Brunello Cucinelli’s small hamlet in Italy

Italian designer Brunello Cucinelli. Photo: Guido Gambardella
“King of cashmere” Brunello Cucinelli has been working to restore a small hamlet in Italy for the past 30 years.

The billionaire owner of the self-named luxury brand set up his headquarters in Solomeo, a commune in Italy, in 1985, and has turned it into a sort of company town for Brunello Cucinelli SpA and its employees.

Cucinelli has said that he believes the architecture “needs to symbolise higher meanings besides serving a material purpose”. The commune has an open-air theatre, a library and an 18th-century church, Bloomberg reported.

10. Kevin Plank has plans to revitalise Baltimore

Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank speaking in Las Vegas, US, in January 2016. Photo: AFP

Plank, the founder of Under Armour, announced his US$5.5 billion plan for revitalising Baltimore, Maryland – where his company is based – in 2016.

11. Dan Gilbert has plans to revitalise Detroit

Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures founder Dan Gilbert is seen during a basketball game in East Lansing, Michigan. Photo: AP

Similarly, Gilbert, the co-founder of Rocket Mortgage, announced a US$500 million investment in plans to revitalise Detroit, Michigan in 2021.His company has poured billions of dollars into the city since moving its headquarters to downtown Detroit in 2010, according to Tech Crunch. source