There is an ongoing debate in the fields of technology and economics about an $80 million investment made by a group associated with a Bill Gates company. This particular investment is reportedly contributing to the development of a high-tech community outside of Phoenix, Arizona. The news has caused much speculation about the possibilities of this project and some backlash. So what’s the story, and is it all just hype?
The Smart City Project
The AZ land parcel, which is owned by Belmont Partners, is comprised of 24,800 acres. The community will be known as Belmont. According to the plan, around 3,800 acres of the property will be allocated to commercial and retail space, while 470 acres will be devoted to public schools. Add to that 80,000 residences and the population should be up to around the 182,000 mark, which makes it comparable to Tempe, Arizona. Belmont will be located 45 miles west of Phoenix.
What Makes a City Smart?
If Belmont is going to be a city of the future, the investment partners seem determined to give it a head start. The development project is said to feature all the trappings of a high-tech smart city, such as self-driving cars, high-speed internet embedded throughout the environment, cutting-edge smart manufacturing technology, and autonomous logistics hubs.
It’s currently unclear to what extent Gates, and his company Cascade Investments, is set to become involved in this project, but Arizona, known as a technology-friendly state, is welcoming the idea. Several major companies in the autonomous vehicle industry – Uber, Intel, and Waymo – are already testing their technologies in the area.
This investment is just one of several recent examples of plans to build high-tech cities from the ground up. According to Belmont spokesperson Grady Gammage, developing this type of infrastructure from the drawing board is easier and more cost-effective than rebuilding and upgrading an existing infrastructure. However, the venture is not cheap, and the returns on the investment are projected to be very long-term.
To keep the concept in perspective, Belmont is currently a very large parcel of undeveloped land, almost the size of the French capital, Paris. Experts claim that the region’s low land prices could mean an affordable standard of living for Belmont’s future residents. A further advantage is that Belmont Partners are hoping to make the most of Arizona’s current low-regulation policy on autonomous vehicles.
The project, however, is not without its critics. Some of whom claim that the development is neither smart nor a true city. Other critics have raised their eyebrows at Arizona’s ongoing water crisis, pointing out that this project will only drain the state’s depleted resources even more. To keep within legal parameters, Belmont will have to prove that it has a 100-year assured water supply before it can begin to build. This may not be an easy feat, as it has yet to be disclosed how they can make this happen in regards to being truly sustainable.
The Future of Googleville
Similarly, Google plans to pilot its first smart city in an area on the Toronto waterfront. As Canada’s largest city, Toronto is an expanding metropolis, and it is also a high-tech hotbed right now. But Google’s main aim is to improve the city by expanding Toronto’s underdeveloped areas, such as the waterfront. Google’s high tech city promises a wide array of new technologies combined with environmental sustainability.
Think self-driving cars, high-speed internet with free Wi-Fi, along with smart and efficient technology incorporated into facets such as traffic lights and street lights that communicate with each other.
Perhaps Google is more equipped for such a project than any other company; after all, they did give us a search engine that has rapidly expanded to help people navigate, communicate, and work more efficiently. After a year of brainstorming their smart city concept, Google has proposed several innovative ideas about how to develop a new infrastructure “from the Internet up.” Toronto is currently seeking bids to regenerate the waterfront area, so there is a lot of hope for this project.
Smart Cities, Big Challenges
While the smart city building venture looks great in the virtual model and may work well in Arizona and Toronto, this type of project is not without its challenges. In particular, if it is to be implemented in other parts of the country and if it involves altering a city’s current infrastructure, the challenges will be major. For many large U.S. cities, such development could pose extremely difficult when taking into consideration the concerns of long-time residents, the limitations of existing infrastructure, and the displacement of high-density jobs. These issues, however, do not come into play when the area of land being built on is undeveloped or underdeveloped.
In spite of the challenges, the U.S. and Canada are not the only countries with an eye turned towards futuristic smart cities; Dubai and Tokyo are also working on their own versions. The Dubai Blockchain Strategy is set to explore and incorporate the latest technological innovations to make their city safer and smarter than ever before. A blockchain initiative is decentralized and allows digital information to be freely distributed, but not copied.
Tokyo also has a plan to smarten its urban development. The Japanese version of a smart city is somewhat different, though. It includes the implementation of alternative fuel sources such as wind, sun and nuclear, to harness the power in mass quantities and distribute it to businesses, homes and electric cars. Yokahoma, a city just south of Tokyo, is the site of a five-year pilot program to create a smart infrastructure that will hopefully become a model for other cities.
It will take several years to see what will become of Arizona’s Belmont, and perhaps before then; we will begin to see other versions of smart cities around the world that will generate even more innovations towards improving our own infrastructure. Nevertheless, one thing is becoming more evident: when it comes to technology, the future is getting smarter.