Everyone would agree that news of an impending industrial facility being built nearby is a concerning prospect. But that’s exactly what’s happening in Austin, Texas, because Tesla is looking at a large site nine miles east of the city for its 5th Gigafactory.
So we thought we’d take the opportunity to do a little “what if” thought exercise: how could this development become more than just another predictable, generic facility?
Austin vs. Tulsa
The competition for local investment is fierce these days, and a Tesla facility of this size (aka The Terrafactory) is no small prize. In fact, there’s a bunch of places that would love to have it– but the contest seems to be coming down to Austin, Texas and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tulsa’s proposal awkwardly features a youthful name and an “Austin Sucks” attitude without including any real imagery or compelling, Tulsa-specific appeal. So we gotta ask: what would Tulsa have to lose by offering a bolder, more ambitious vision to really give Austin a run for its money–to potentially land this sort of community-changing project?
Despite the Commissioner’s Court of Travis County, TX still busily discussing incentive packages for Tesla in Austin, the deal’s not in the bag yet. We have no idea what Austin’s leadership actually has planned, but WE have some ideas! What if Austin stepped up their level of local planning and placemaking ambition to one befitting a company like Tesla? What would that look like? Let’s imagine it together…
21st-Century Mixed-Use Company Town
We envision the three-square-mile site in far-east Austin becoming home to a pioneering, vertical, mixed-use place–a lush greenspace-enveloped community with the Model Y and Cybertruck production facilities at its heart.
The manufacturing of e-cars is quiet and pollution-free, so it’s great for integrating into a compact urban design, featuring thousands of affordable homes, safe streets, and neighborly public spaces. Why clone yet another sprawling and soulless facility, when you can build an authentically 21st-century testament to the power of design and engineering?
Our imagined development consists of a main town and four smaller villages on the north, south, and east sides of the two factory “bergs.” The factories themselves would be four stories tall. Built on top of those, we envision additional structures ranging from 4 to 30 stories tall– think public spaces, shops, offices, restaurants, and apartments–all with seductive views into the surrounding parklands and more-distant countryside.
Even though Tesla cars are the best way to travel between distant places, our local Tesla Town residents would thrive on foot, bike, transit, and ride-hail for their local needs. A Hyperloop station underneath the factory would provide access to high-speed logistics and travel.
It’ll be the type of place in which so many people in North America yearn to live, but is not readily available. Lively and livable–made for people of all ages, physical abilities, and incomes.
Features of our “What If” Tesla Town development include:
- Close-proximity, cosmopolitan living, along with nearby countryside calm and appeal
- A location nine miles from the center of Austin and only 6 miles from an international airport
- Easy access to 3 major arterials
- Subterranean regional hyperloop station
- Five distinct compact, walkable, bikeable towns and villages with 20K population
- Two vertical, mixed-use Terrafactory “bergs,” with the services and residential accommodations for an additional 20K people
- Subtropical-climate adapted, passively-cooled, arcaded streets, and courtyard buildings
- Internationally-proven, high-value building, and streetscape forms
- Lighting and urban programming for 18-hour activity
- Extensive greenbelt along the verdant Colorado River
- Outdoor sport and entertainment options like Tesla-kart, e-motocross tracks, and cable-wakeboarding
- Ultra-compact form optimized to preserve greenspace to answer powerful local conservationists
- Variety of residential building types from 3 to 12 stories high, including walkup apartments, lofts, rowhouses, and industrial-age lofts
The Challenge Ahead
We realize that something as ambitious as our “what if” company town would require an ability to overcome the existing regulatory environment and supply-chain inertia. But Tesla shoots for the stars in whatever they do, and if anyone can help disrupt the planning and development status-quo, they can.
Ultimately, such a high-value and unique destination like this would forever change the destiny of this sleepy corner on the outskirts of Austin for the better.
If we want these sorts of places, we’ll have to get out of our comfort zones, attend hearings, write letters, and talk to our neighbors. We have to insist that it’s worth investing in different ways of thinking to win better opportunities and outcomes.