Dreams and reality collide in Praxis’ vision of a utopian crypto city

On March 3, a mysterious message appeared on Twitter that promised a new way of life for cryptocurrency investors. “Praxis is building the city of the future,” it reads. The message ended with a link announcing a $15 million fundraiser and an invitation to join their community.

The tweet is from a San Francisco-based organization created by two men in their twenties, Dryden Brown and Charlie Callinan, who say they are raising money with a land purchase project. Eventually, they hope to bring together a new society of founders, engineers, artists, and other pioneers who want to help create the world’s first city-crypto-state.

What does all this mean? Good question. On the website, the vision is a cryptocurrency-powered cultural utopia. In the blogs, one of the founders refers to ancient Athens and Renaissance Florence. We’re talking about beautifully designed homes and parks, innovative governance, and decentralized currency. Jobs listed include Head of Real Estate and Political Analyst.

The reality so far is a website, a Twitter account and a lively channel on the Discord chat platform, where almost 10,000 members have expressed interest in discussing ideas such as the merits of creating a new city in space or Antarctica (good for keeping servers cool).

There is an air of unreality in Praxis, even in the conversations between people interested enough to join an online community devoted to it. We don’t know where or exactly what we’re talking about. There is no timeline or evidence that particular plots of land are being considered.

The objectives are so broad that they can be interpreted in all sorts of ways. Is the desired outcome a special economic zone, a tax haven for crypto investors, or a whole new type of company? If the dream is to escape centralized society and old rules, then where will the money come from?

As Elon Musk talks about colonizing Mars and tech idealists tout the idea of ​​living permanently online in the metaverse, the concept of investing in buildings, parks and roads may feel like a throwback to back. But Praxis is part of a libertarian trend in the tech industry that dreams of detaching itself from the existing government infrastructure and applying the startup model to all walks of life.

The enthusiasm it has generated suggests that it’s not just ultra-libertarians who want to rethink the cities in which they live. Praxis’ target audience is part of a generation that is not allowed to buy houses in big cities but still looks for possible connections in urban spaces.

The loneliness of the pandemic has been an incentive to reflect more closely on community and where we live. Remote work facilitates selection and choice. One of Praxis’ claims is that it wants to build the city that Silicon Valley deserves. If you’ve visited the dull collection of freeways, low-rise buildings, and hidden campuses that make up Silicon Valley, you’ll know that creating something more suited to a global tech industry and more appealing to aspiring technology is not a bad idea. .

Of course, it’s much easier to talk about starting from scratch than making it happen. The sums raised so far amount to less than $20 million – tiny given the ambition involved. Trying to remake the physical world with it is going to be a problem, even if the investors include Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.

Even with more money, efforts to create self-sustaining or tech-driven cities have met resistance.

Larry Page, co-founder of Google, once spoke of the merits of setting aside land somewhere in the world for experimentation. But Google’s efforts to work with officials on an urban redevelopment project have so far failed. In late 2017, Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, announced a program in Toronto to build a city for the internet age. Residents immediately became concerned about the potential large-scale use of the sensors. In May 2020, the project was stopped.

A decade ago, tech investors backed an even more ambitious plan to create independent, self-governing floating cities. In 2008, the Seasteading Institute was co-founded by Patri Friedman, grandson of economist Milton Friedman, and backed by tech superstar Peter Thiel. But his plan to build a community off Tahiti provoked protests from the local population and was abandoned. Friedman then created Pronomos Capital to invest in new urban startups. Praxis is one of his investments.

The city that Praxis dreams of does not exist. Maybe it never will. But the interest it has generated suggests that technology’s focus on building virtual worlds isn’t enough. Even digital nomads want to be together in real life.

elaine.moore@ft.com