In historian Ben Wilson’s new book on the history of cities, Metropolis, he notes that the ancient Mesopotamian settlement of Uruk, considered urbanization’s first draft, actually came thousands of years after an elaborate stone worship site was assembled on a mountainside in present-day Turkey. “The temple came before the farm,” he wrote. In other words, beliefs are more important than buildings.
This truism of city hatching is just as relevant today, at a time when tech moguls seek to refashion themselves as a different kind of founder. In a recent interview with Recode, Marc Lore, a billionaire serial e-commerce entrepreneur considered the brains behind Walmart’s successful online expansion, announced he’s retiring to join a rarefied club: tech titan turned city father. The logistics and efficiency expert, a founder of both Jet.com (the sale of which netted him nearly half a billion dollars) and a digital diaper delivery service acquired by Amazon, will turn his focus toward building a high-tech city of the future boasting “the vibrancy, diversity, and culture of New York City combined with the efficiency, safety, and innovation of Tokyo and the sustainability, governance, and social services of Sweden.” (He’s quite partial to Stockholm).
It’s nothing short of a “new model for society we’ll be testing,” he said, built on a “reformed version of capitalism.” While details are sparse — Lore did not return Marker’s requests for comment — he’s compared the endeavor to that of a disruptive startup, arguing to CNBC that “there’s an opportunity here to test a new model for society, and just like in typical startup fashion, doing it on a clean slate is the easiest way I know how to do it. Trying to make change in the country as it exists today would be much tougher.”