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Building a new city from scratch could cost around 20 billion dollars (ref [this article][1]) and could take around 50 years to reach a population of a few million (ref this post). If one had a large enough piece of land, what would the first steps be to build a new small town from scratch, with the following conditions?

  • zero funding
  • no underground resources such as gold, oil, water, minerals
  • the land is a flat desert
  • the closest road connecting the land to other towns is passing right by its side
  • the closest town is 40 km away (around 40 mins drive)
  • the closest airport is 300 km away (around 5 hours drive)
  • no nearby water body
  • no surrounding mountains

I can imagine the first step is having a resource that will attract people of one of the following categories: investors, tourists, residents, employees.

If I had a resource that attracted investors, it would be the most accelerating step for the process, because it brings in funds to do other things. Examples of underground resources are already discarded based on my conditions above.

Tourist attraction examples also bring in funds, albeit slower than investor funds. Examples: a natural forest, hiking trails, camping area, religious centers. Note that starting off with zero funds restricts options such as building something like Disneyland.

  [1]: https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/05/how-do-you-put-price-tag-brand-new-city/2026/

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    $\begingroup$ No rational person would do anything like this. For slarty's suggestion you would only get the size of an outpost with a couple of rest houses and a resources shop. As for will's, moving that much resources(especially water) is ridiculous. The only way such a place exists(without being built by idiots) is if that town originally had resources and they dried up, while the people finding it inconvient to move or are too proudful. Otherwise its bandits that steal resources and are avoiding society. $\endgroup$ – Necessity Oct 15 '17 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ That's an interesting take on the subject. Care to put it up as an answer? $\endgroup$ – shadi Oct 15 '17 at 16:57
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Shadi, if you do not have water topside, and you do not have water underground, what will your people drink? Water is a sine qua non for humans and especially a city of the size you are seeking.

I can think of only one city that occurs in total wasteland such as you describe.
Burning Man from the air weird Burning man photo

Burning Man.

It is a weird festival city that springs out of this desolation every year. Obviously there is some sort of organization given the layout of the living quarters. The crucial thing: a nearby large population of moneyed people with discretionary funds (I suppose tourists, in a sense), and other people who have the means to come to the desert and sustain themselves.

Since it is so desolate everything must be carried in. It is 70,000+ when in full swing but then it goes away, so only a temporary city.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks! A temporary city is an idea that hadn't crossed my mind. In a way, some cities are also temporary: a whole lot of people drive into the city in the morning, work, and drive out. They bring in their own car and their own food. It's like the burning man event, except that it's more frequent (daily, weekdays), and there are some resources available to them that they don't need to bring in and out (waste, water, electricitt). $\endgroup$ – shadi Oct 15 '17 at 2:49
  • $\begingroup$ That is food for thought for sure. $\endgroup$ – Willk Oct 15 '17 at 3:34
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I think you must have something there to make it worthwhile to visit. How about something like this:

enter image description here

Ok it’s not flat, but you could imagine the same sort of pattern on a flat surface and it could be something even more bizarrely coloured and patterned. That would act a draw for tourists, who would act as a draw for vendors of water, food, mobile sanitary services etc. soon there would soon be a visitor centre and they would be charging people to view it and the staff would need somewhere handy to live (and so on).

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you! I could get a few artists to carve art into the location, whether it's patterns or faces like Mount Rushmore. The problem is that it would have to be really very very special and very attractive to get enough tourists to finance self sufficiency. We already see this in existing tourist attractions. But I guess that's the cost of starting with zero funds $\endgroup$ – shadi Oct 15 '17 at 13:49

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