Will Telosa, America’s utopic vision for the future of urban life, work?

New colonies…we don’t often get the pleasure of reading or writing about these beyond the avant-garde perimeters of science and speculative fiction. But I’m happy to reveal, as someone who finds themselves intoxicated by the organisation involved in town planning (nerd alert), that’s not the case right now.

Avid consumers of news may naturally take for granted that I’m about to launch into 700 words on Elon Musk’s ambitious scheme to colonise our dusty red neighbour. I’m not — although I do discuss Mr Musk’s grand plan in my upcoming book, AI by Design, due for release shortly.

No, I’m here today to talk about Telosa, an exciting new city Walmart tycoon Marc Lore and renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels are currently building from scratch in the Western US desert.

Announced in September this year with a target completion date of circa 2060, the striking municipality will cover an area of more than 150,000 acres (roughly 25% of the size of New York City) and will house an estimated five million people (around the same as the population of Sydney).

The North Star of this bold utopic vision?

“Creating a new city in America that sets a global standard for urban living, expands human potential and becomes a blueprint for future generations”.

Lore and Ingels are peddling the project on all of the key selling points one might expect of any pioneering metropolis: a safe and inclusive community, good and plentiful jobs, convenient and accessible mobility, plenty of green space, world class experiences, personalised healthcare, diverse housing options, top-notch education, a commitment to sustainability, and an attractive population density (33 people per acre).

There’s one more, though, and it’s the one I’m most interested in: innovation. Telosa looks to develop “creative solutions that improve quality of life for its citizens”. As this is my day job, what a cool prospect!

In the promo video, Lore says his teams are still trying to figure out the innovation specifics, like “how to infuse technology” in a city being constructed from the ground up and “how to test autonomous vehicles to keep people safe” and create the most flexible streetscapes possible.

On the official website, you’ll find several artist’s renderings of Telosa and its futuristic appearance, where transportation appears to take centre stage.

Autonomous planes glide through the air above soaring, twisting metal and glass towers with aeroponic farms clinging to the sides. Sleek but boxy self-driving cars cruise slowly down cactus-lined boulevards past lush, attractive parks. And suspended bullet-shaped capsules whizz along raised tracks, giving citizens “access to all of their needs within a 15-minute commute”.

It’s all part of Telosa’s invisible, smart infrastructure, where real-time service and travel options will maximise safety, affordability and efficiency in all areas of mobility.

The city also promises to use cutting-edge tech like 3D printing and artificial intelligence to improve services and reduce waste, and to make sure there’s an open dialogue with the community to anticipate and resolve problems in this respect and others before they even arise.

All information and communications will apparently be offered digitally, and the infrastructure for both (including high-speed, reliable internet) will be affordable and accessible to everyone.

Everything about Telosa sounds and looks pretty darned peachy, but is this just another zealous billionaire firing rockets into space (not that I predict Elon won’t eventually pull off his plan), or could it all really come together in the next 40 years?

I’d like to say it could, but if history is anything to go by, probably not. This wouldn’t be the first time humanity has tried for utopia, a term coined by Sir Thomas Moore for his titular 1516 book Utopia, which detailed a near-perfect fictional island society in the Atlantic Ocean.

Some attempts were successful on a small scale (think India’s Auroville or Denmark’s Free Town Christiania), but most (like Scotland’s New Lanark) eventually turned into the stuff of nightmares.

I don’t fancy packing my suitcase just yet, but there’d be nowhere to go even if I did as Telosa’s resident scouts are currently only looking for individuals within the US. I guess it’ll have to be Mars for me and my family then…not! What about you — would you care to live in either?

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Catriona Campbell

Catriona Campbell

3.4K Followers

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com