A secretive investment firm owned by Bill Gates is buying up land in Arizona. The arid land about 45 minutes west of Phoenix, is rumoured to be the site of a new ‘smart’ city. The investment firm, Cascade Investment LLC, has invested 80 million dollars in untouched land in the Arizona desert. While some news reports suggest that Bill Gate is the brainchild behind plans for the city out in the desert, more accurate reporting suggest Gates, nor Microsoft have any direct connection to the investment. Rather this is a case of a conservative investment fund spending money on a sure thing.
A close-by city called Buckeye has experienced exponential population growth in the last 20 years growing from 6,000 to more than 65,000. If this is the case study for wanting to grab land and build houses, it seems a pretty open and shut case.
City will host about 80,000 residential units
Cascade Investment is known to invest wisely and cautiously into ventures such as agricultural supplies, waste management companies and railways. A subsidiary of the company, called Mt. Lemmon Holdings actually purchased the Arizona land parcel and by all accounts, it is a wise move.
The new land plot is roughly 25,000 acres and is reportedly going to be called Belmont. Belmont Partners, the Arizona real estate investment company involved in the deal, described the future in their press release: "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 will be home to a mixed office, retail, and commercial space. About 470 acres will be dedicated for public schools.
The allocation of land leaves space for about 80,000 residential units. At this density, Belmont will be less city and more suburbia. Belmont Properties described it as: "Comparable in square miles and projected population to Tempe, Arizona, Belmont will transform a raw, blank slate into a purpose-built edge city built around a flexible infrastructure model."
Slate journalist Henry Grabar is slightly less favorable in his description of the future city saying, "That density would pencil out to about three houses an acre, more or less the classic equation for a subdivision of detached single-family homes. On paper, it is exactly the type of dessert-eating development that’s produced one of the country’s most sprawling metro areas."
Is the city really a 'smart city'?
But Belmont isn’t the first of its kind out in the middle of nowhere. In the 1970s, architect Paolo Soleri built the experimental town Arcosanti just north of Phoenix. While much smaller in scale, the city has had a profound impact on pop culture, its retro-futuristic architecture was the apparent source of inspiration for the built environment in the star wars films. Whether you buy into the hype of Bill Gates having some influence on this project or not. What is an important takeaway message is what we consider a ‘smart’ city. The fact Belmont is able to be labeled ‘smart’ because it will have data centers and autonomous vehicles should provoke some discussion on how ambitious we want our future cities to be.