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Telosa – Walmart’s $400 Billion Desert Utopia

Written by Matthew Copes

When it was published in 1516, Sir Thomas More’s satirical socio–political novel Utopia poked fun at many of the ills that have plagued society since the beginning of time.

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To various degrees, poverty, inequality, corruption and exploitation have always been present wherever humans are.

Both subtly and overtly, More proposed a number of ways in which future societies might become more inclusive, harmonious, and self-sustaining.

Since then, seperatist communities around the world have sought to incorporate ideals like equality, fairness and inclusion to help residents live freer, happier and more productive lives.

More’s novel was set on a remote island community called Utopia – a term cobbled together from portions of two Greek words meaning ‘no place’ and ‘good place’ respectively.

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These days the catchall phrase is generally defined as an imaginary place or state in which everything is harmonious or downright perfect, but More’s choice of words seems to indicate that he believed such a place could never exist.

At this point it’s worth noting that nobody has ever likened Walmart to a Utopia – at least not anyone who’s ever been to a Walmart. 

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However, an enterprising and fabulously wealthy ex-Walmart executive named Mark Lore has proposed building a 400 billion USD metropolis somewhere in America in the next decade.

Lore promises that the city will be as diverse and vibrant as New York, as clean, safe and efficient as Tokyo, and every bit as sustainable and well governed as Stockholm.

It’s called Telosa, and if everything goes according to plan, it could become the most perfect place on earth.

Telosa comes from an ancient Greek word meaning ‘highest purpose.’

The Greeks believed that only individuals who lived in unified and equitable societies could reach their full potentials, and apparently Marc Lore agress.

He asserts that by focusing on sustainable solutions to persistent social, political, environmental and economic issues, Telosa may attain a state he refers to as Equitism.

More on this shortly, but before moving on a few disclaimers are in order.

First, Telosa isn’t actually affiliated with Walmart, but to recap, it’s the brainchild of an ex-Walmart executive.

And second, Lore claims that the goal is not to create an earthly Utopia.

That said, after perusing Telosa’s official website, it sounds like that’s exactly what he’s trying to do. 

Marc Lore

Born in Staten Island, New York on May 16, 1971, Marc Lore was the oldest of three children.

The family later moved to New Jersey, where his mother was a successful bodybuilder and personal trainer, and his father founded a consulting company that he named after his two sons.  

In middle school, when most of his friends were engaging in less cerebral activities, Lore devoured books on the stock market, after which he became interested in little-known financial instruments that we now call derivatives.

Even in high school Lore was a serial entrepreneur, and such were his math skills that his classmates often referred to him as the human calculator.

But despite his abundant brain power, Lore was more class clown than math geek.

After high school he attended Bucknell University and ultimately graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management and Economics.

After college, Lore held various positions with high-profile international investment banks, where he made a name for himself as a whip-smart go-getter.

Lore later enrolled in grad school at both Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania’s elite Wharton School, but he eventually dropped out of both programs.

In 2005, he co founded Quidsi, the parent company of Diapers.com, which he sold to Amazon six years later for $500 million.

Then after a short stint at Amazon, he cofounded e-commerce platform Jet.com in 2014, which he ended up selling to Walmart for 3 billion – not million – USD in cash.

In 2016 he became CEO of Walmart’s domestic e-commerce division, where he promptly increased sales by nearly 200%.

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However, despite his successes and immense wealth, after his time at Walmart Lore turned his attention to a far loftier endeavor – founding Telosa and creating “a reformed version of capitalism.”

Shortly thereafter, inspired by his revolutionary vision for an entirely new kind of society, Lore founded the Junto Group.

Named after a civic-minded organization founded by Ben Franklin in 1727, the Junto Group is composed of designers, scientists, economists, engineers, educators, and urban planners, all of whom are purportedly dedicated to turning Lore’s dream into a reality. 

“Built from Scratch”

From inherent corruption and runaway inflation to war, famine and climate change, these days there’s no shortage of less than encouraging news.

Telosa’s website claims that the current political and economic systems promote growth and prosperity for some, while leading to marginalization and inequality for others.

Based on this premise,Lore and the Junto Group aim to create a more equitable and sustainable future by building a revolutionary city that establishes new benchmarks in regard to harmonious urban living and the realization of human potential.

A place where residents feel safe and inspired by those around them, where the average commute is just 15 minutes, and where everyone is connected to nature.

To come up with a master plan for this ambitious undertaking, Lore partnered with Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.

Founder of world-renowned design studio BIG, Ingels previously taught at Yale, Harvard and Rice universities, and is a frequent speaker at high profile venues like WIRED and the World Economic Forum.

Ingles’ conceptual renderings show a distinctly futuristic desert metropolis characterized by contemporary glass-clad buildings, inviting open spaces, and wide tree-lined streets all framed by idyllic mountains. 

As residents relax in nearly noiseless and pollution-free green zones, space-age hovercraft zip between offices, parks, and the centrally located Equitism Tower.

Below the towering hourglass shaped icon, the city is dotted with bike paths, lush pockets of native vegetation, homes, apartments and businesses, and reservoirs that clean gray water through natural processes.

But though Telosa will be built somewhere in the United States, the exact location hasn’t yet been determined.

A number of sites in Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Texas and the Appalachian region are currently under consideration.

Needless to say, each potential site must not only meet the criteria set forth by the Junto Group and Telosa’s executive committee, but undergo scrutiny, reviews and studies by various local, state and federal government agencies.

In the first two decades Telosa is expected to cover 30,000 acres and accommodate 1 million residents, while 40 years after its founding it’s estimated that both land area and population will increase fivefold. 

Tenets of Telosa

To be clear, the official Telosa website is chock-full of mantras, slogans and relatively vague assertions, many of which seem to lack any real substance. 

However, it is remarkably specific in regard to the principles that will make the desert city such an amazing place.

Without further adieu, here they are in no particular order…

Openness – Telosa will be a welcoming community in which ideas and information are freely exchanged. In turn, this will promote trust, accountability and authenticity. 

Fairness – Each of Telosa’s residents will have equal access to opportunities and services, so that all might share in the prosperity they helped create.

Inclusion – By valuing honor, respect, diversity and individual uniqueness, each citizen of the community will be just as valued as his neighbor, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status. To ensure that these core values don’t fall by the wayside, Telosa will have a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Department and a DEI Advisory Committee.  

Transparency – If secret handshakes, backroom deals, wasteful pork-barrel projects drive you nuts, living in Telosa might be just what the doctor ordered, because citizens will be well informed, and politicians and community leaders will be held accountable for their actions and policies. To these ends, all communication between officials will be matters of public record, and those who wish to can attend meetings physically or virtually. In addition, participatory budgeting will allow citizens to influence how money is spent within the community.

Secure and verifiable elections – In Telosa, electronic and in-person ballots will be protected by advanced technologies like blockchain to ensure that elections are fair and tamper proof. Secure in the knowledge that candidates with the most support will actually work on behalf of the people who voted them into office, citizens will be more likely to participate in elections.

Publicly funded campaigns –To eliminate outside influences, political campaigns will be financed exclusively with public funds. This is slightly ironic, considering that in recent elections Marc Lore made personal donations to two Democratic candidates – Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the latter of whom is now the US Secretary of Transportation.

Ecology – Since the environment is a major priority, Telosa’s leaders will set high standards and clear criteria to ensure minimal impact and maximum sustainability. The city’s various public utility systems will provide clean air and water, abundant open spaces, all of which will improve resident’s physical and mental health.

Education – Though there’s no mention of how many residents will be school-aged children, education will be another big priority. In Telosa, each student will have equal access to the best educators and resources.

Vibrant economy – Telosa’s economy will largely be driven by innovators, entrepreneurs and tourism. By harnessing capital, technology and both human and natural resources, economic growth is expected to be robust in an environment in which business and employment opportunities abound for all. 

Health and wellness – Since health and wellbeing are the cornerstones on which all prosperity is built, each of Telosa’s citizens will enjoy equal access to healthcare. By focusing on preventative care to promote healthy lifestyles, it’s estimated that per-capita healthcare costs will be far lower in Telosa than they are elsewhere. In addition, all providers will be required to publish their services and associated costs, so that individuals can better manage their finances and healthcare strategies.

Accessible and affordable housing – In Telosa, inclusive, mixed-income zoning ordinances will bring residents from different backgrounds together to minimize stratification and create more integrated neighborhoods. But though some residents may own homes and apartments, the land itself will be owned and managed by a private endowment, the proceeds from which will help build and maintain infrastructure and provide funding for social services like education and healthcare.

Arts and leisure – Because art, creativity and healthy leisure activities improve overall quality of life, Telosa’s municipal government will support the arts through direct funding and other development strategies. In addition, artists will be encouraged to create and show their work in public spaces and installations across the city, all of which will be overseen by an Arts and Culture Committee.

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Residents Wanted

When it’s built, Telosa will technically be a city for “everyone.”

However, at least in the early going, those with specialized skills will be given far more consideration than unqualified applicants.

On the bright side, there’s really only one prerequisite – future residents must be unabashed dreamers who yearn to be part of something bigger and more groundbreaking than has ever been tried before.

Marc Lore may have summed it up best when he said:

“We have a chance to prove a new model for society that offers people a higher quality of life and greater opportunity. When I look out 30 years from now, I imagine Equitism serving as a blueprint for other cities — and even the world — and Telosa being a place of pride for all who live there.”

Of course, Telosa isn’t without its critics.

On the environmental side, many question the wisdom of building a supposedly sustainable city in the desert, because, you guessed it, water is particularly scarce in deserts even in the best of times, and these days much of the American Southwest is experiencing an epic drought. 

Likewise, some question the morality of having residents chosen by a committee.

Yet others remain skeptical or altogether unconvinced that an accomplished brainiac like Marc Lore actually believes that he and the Junto Group will actually be able to solve persistent problems that have plagued mankind since the beginning of time.

Harris Steinberg, Executive Director of Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation characterized Telosa as a well-intentioned “pipe dream.”

Though Steinberg admits that Lore’s goals are admirable on the surface, he thinks it unlikely that the vision is sustainable in the long term.

Ultimately, Steinberg likened the venture to “The Jetsons on LSD.”

The truth is that for thousands of years social experiments aimed at creating worldly Utopias have been tried everywhere from India and France to America and the Soviet Union, and nearly everywhere in between.

In the contemporary era, one of the most successful Utopian communities is located in Auroville, India.

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Founded in 1968 by new-age spiritualist and yoga guru Mira “Mother” Alfassa, Auroville was established under the amorphous premise of bridging the gap between the past and future.

The town’s center is dominated by a gold sphere containing dozens of meditation rooms that purportedly took nearly four decades to build. 

Now more than five decades later, Auroville is home to approximately 2,000 residents from nearly four dozen countries, and though small businesses abound, much of the town’s revenue comes from tourism.

Situated on a barren 7.7-square mile (20 square km) patch of land along India’s southeast coast, Auroville is relatively undeveloped, consisting of just a few residences, a school, town hall and the aforementioned meditation sphere.

In Auroville, healthcare, utilities and school are all free, but though Alfassa once claimed that the town wasn’t the property of anyone in particular, it’s actually owned by the Auroville Foundation, which in turn is owned by the government of India.

Though some Utopian societies have succeeded in creating relatively equitable environments in which many societal ills have been minimized if not altogether eliminated, most have been short-lived flops, largely because in the end, people are people.

Though Telosa’s future is far from certain, optimism is running high.

Even in these early stages, investors and future residents are lining up in droves in the hopes of reserving their spaces in what might just be one of the grandest social experiments in human history.

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