A 25,000-acre chunk of land 40 miles from Phoenix is slated to host the development of what might or might not be a “city of the future.” Cascade Investment LLC, a group associated with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, bought an $80 million stake in the project, which is managed by Belmont Partners.
According to the developers, "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 centers, new manufacturing technologies and distribution models, autonomous vehicles and autonomous logistics hubs," Belmont Partners, the Arizona real estate investment company involved in the deal, said in a news release.
The plan for the new city dedicates 3,800 acres to office, commercial and retail space, with 470 acres dedicated to public schools. Residential properties and open space will use the remaining acreage. The “blank-slate” quality allows developers to incorporate the latest technologies without the need to retrofit existing buildings and infrastructure. Housing development is expected to be low-density.
The billionaire does not appear to be directly involved in Belmont’s development. Critics question how “smart” the new city will be. One definition of a smart city, put forward by IEEE’s Smart Cities group, incorporates more than a robust technical infrastructure, noting the importance of government and public involvement. Since Belmont will be created from the ground up, developers can create their own government and public authorities along with other infrastructure.
Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, recently announced its own smart city project that purports to involve multiple sectors. Partnering with Toronto, the project plans to “tackle the challenges of urban growth…to make Toronto the global hub for urban innovation.” Other smart city projects are underway in Denver, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.