An investment company controlled by Bill Gates has bought 24,800 acres in the middle of the Arizona desert. According to AZ Central, the multi-billionaire software tycoon and sexy futurist also bought a controlling stake in a project to build a technologically advanced metropolis on the site. Sadly this development won’t be named Billyburg, but Belmont.
According to Business Real Estate Weekly of Arizona, the land “is entitled for almost 80,000 residential units and more than 3,800 acres of industrial, office, and commercial uses.” The real estate firm–called Belmont Partners–says the new city will be a “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.” Aside that marketdroid blurb, there are no details on who is designing the project or how this city will be any different from other cities around the world. It may as well describe flying cars, a spaceport, and a maid robot called Rosie.
Building cities from scratch is nothing new, but history shows us that it’s easy to dream of a perfect Tomorrowland and end up with a Brasilia or, worse, a ghost town. However, Google also believes that building futuristic cities up from nothing is possible, although its newly-announced $1 billion, 800-acre waterfront development is attached to the city of Toronto. China is trying it with a high-tech metropolis that will reportedly dwarf New York City. Middle-Eastern firms, already familiar with building cities out of thin air, are investing in another advanced city in Malaysia.
Talking to Arizona TV channel 12 News, Arizona Technology Council’s executive emeritus Ronald Schott is sitting firmly in Camp Kool-Aid. He mentions that it’s about time that “someone recognizes Arizona for the technological hub that it is,” and points out that the location of this promised land is ideal: The Interstate 11 will run nearby on its way from Reno, Nevada, to Nogales, Arizona, connecting Belmont with those cities, Phoenix, and Las Vegas.
In fact, not far from Belmont’s future location is an actual city of the future. It’s called Arcosanti–an experimental town built by Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri in the 1970s around his principles of “arcology,” a portmanteau of architecture and ecology. In theory, Arcosanti was a demonstration that, in order for humanity to survive and flourish, we should embrace our environment in our city developments. Hopefully Belmont will take a note or two from Arcosanti and not from another city built on sand in the middle of nowhere–Las Vegas.