We’re Already Building New Cities

Brad Hargreaves
Jan 16, 2017 · 7 min read
The Villages, Florida

The Villages, Florida

In 2000, only 8,000 people lived in these Central Florida flatlands. By 2015, the population had exploded to 157,000, a city larger than Charleston, South Carolina or Kansas City, Kansas. Of those, 100,000 had joined the community since 2010.

The Villages, Florida ~ Courtesy Google Earth

Kiryas Joel, New York

The poorest zip code in the United States isn’t in rural West Virginia or Chicago’s South Side. It’s nestled in the northern suburbs of New York City: 10950, or the Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel.

Kiryas Joel in Orange County, NY
Sign upon entering Kiryas Joel, New York

1. They each focus on a very specific audience.

Both KJ and The Villages are very explicit in their target audiences. While the Villages can get away with doing so legally, KJ must rely on a tightly-held real estate market and an environment unwelcoming of outsiders to maintain its homogeneity. But both get their desired outcomes: KJ is dominated by the Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, and the Villages is almost entirely old and white.

2. They are practical, not utopian.

Cities exist because people need a place to live, work, and play, and an urban center is the most efficient way of making all of that happen. While there is a vision behind both Kiryas Joel and The Villages, they exist to serve practical needs; Utopianism takes a backseat. While KJ’s density could’ve allowed for a much more walkable city, it was nonetheless built for cars (specifically, Ford Windstar minivans) because they are the most practical choice to ferry around large Hasidic families.

3. They’re both from the right side of the aisle.

In the tech community, new city development often has a libertarian bent: Seasteading colonies with loose hierarchies, repurposed cruise ships filled with foreign worker flouting immigration rules, and Burning Man-inspired communes.

Trump caravan in The Villages, Florida. Photo courtesy Jessica Weiss, Univision

4. Local political domination was an early goal with social cohesion and low employment as weapons.

Both communities dominated local politics early. Unlike Kiryas Joel, the Villages were able to execute a takeover of local politics with relative ease and simplicity. Sumter County was already older and Republican-leaning, The Villages’ rapid growth only made it more so.

Public Hearing on Kiryas Joel Annexing 164 acres of Orange County, NY. Photo credit TWC News.

5. They moved fast and didn’t over-engineer it.

Neither KJ nor The Villages were created with a lot of preciousness. They built simple, inexpensive residences using tried-and-true templates. Neither will win any architectural awards, nor will they draw designers and architects from far and wide to study their vision of utopian living like Arcosanti. But unlike Arcosanti, KJ and The Villages worked, accomplishing the founders’ goals and establishing strong, rapidly-growing cities on American soil from scratch.


HOTHOUSE

Rethinking where and how we live from the ground up.

Brad Hargreaves

Written by

Founder & CEO of @hicommon, co-founder of General Assembly (@GA).

HOTHOUSE

HOTHOUSE

Rethinking where and how we live from the ground up.