The ‘smart city’ concept has recently recruited its most high-profile cheerleader after Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates acquired a huge patch of land in Arizona with the dream of building his very own city driven by state-of-the-art connected technology.
The billionaire philanthropist, through the Mt. Lemmon Holdings subsidiary of Gates' investment firm, Cascade Investment, has put down $80m for 25,000 acres of land about 45 minutes west of downtown Phoenix.
The smart city will be called Belmont – a reference to Belmont Partners, an Arizona-based real estate investment group.
In announcing the development, Belmont Partners said: “Belmont will create a forward-thinking community with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centres, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs.”
The vision is to transform the land into a thriving hub of 80,000 residential units, 3,800 acres of commercial, office and retail space and 470 acres set aside for schools. Underpinning life will be a network of data centres, crunching vast volumes of real-time data in order to make life as efficient as possible for residents.
Brooks Rainwater, director of the City Solutions and Applied Research Centre at the National League of Cities, told Business Insider: “The experimentation that takes place in this new community has the potential to demonstrate the viability of new smart city concepts and serve as an example for cities nationwide and globally.”
Experts have been split on whether the location is right for a new city.
Low land prices, a booming population and significant solar energy potential have been listed as positives.
Additionally, with driverless cars on the horizon, Arizona also has an autonomous vehicle-friendly policy, with Ford, General Motors, Intel, Uber and Waymo all having tested vehicle innovations in the state.
“Arizona has always marketed itself as a low-regulation state, most recently in the area of autonomous vehicles. That should accelerate developers and tech companies to carry out real-world pilot tests of new technologies by cutting out red tape,” Anthony Townsend, author of ‘Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia’, said.
On the other hand, the distance between Belmont and Phoenix and notorious water shortage problems in the area are notable concerns.
Moreover, Tom Jones, founder of Smart City Consulting, highlighted the difficulty of establishing a sustainable community in a place that lacks “a sense of place” and “authenticity”.
However, the success or failure of the project is likely to rely on whether Belmont’s data-management capabilities are up to the challenge of handling extreme data that will be generated by the growing population, transforming just another city suburb into a benchmark for smart cities worldwide.
GeoSpock offers the data indexing and management capabilities to handle the inevitable transition from big to ‘extreme’ data that is being undertaken by ambitious smart cities. Find out how GeoSpock can help.