Urban Transformation

Bill Gates is building a smart city in Arizona

Bill Gates speaks at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers event in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Elizabeth Shafiroff - RC12B22D4470

Bill Gates is creating a smart city in the U.S. which will feature fast internet and self-driving cars. Image: REUTERS/Elizabeth Shafiroff

Chris Weller
Ideas Reporter, Business Insider
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Technological Transformation

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has purchased nearly 25,000 acres of land in southwestern Arizona for the construction of a brand-new "smart city," AZ Central reports.

In conjunction with Belmont Partners, who holds the property, Gates's investment firm Cascade Investment LLC has committed $80 million to build a community composed of offices, stores, schools, and homes. The community will be known as Belmont.

Roughly 3,800 of the 24,800 acres will be devoted to office, commercial, and retail space, according to Belmont Partners, while 470 acres will be set aside for public schools. The new community will feature 80,000 residences, giving it a population of about 182,000, comparable to that of Tempe, Arizona.

Belmont Partners expects its development to feature all the trappings of a futuristic city: high-speed internet embedded in the built environment, accommodations for self-driving cars (such as traffic lights that communicate with one another to minimize congestion), and smarter manufacturing technology.

Belmont will be located 45 miles west of Phoenix, near a highway that runs straight to Las Vegas.

"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," Brooks Rainwater, the director of the City Solutions and Applied Research Center at the National League of Cities, told Business Insider.

He added that Arizona is an ideal spot for pilot cities and testing of autonomous vehicles (AVs), "especially now that Gates' project will join the AV pilots run by Google's Waymo in Chandler, right outside of Phoenix."

One of the world's richest looks toward the future

Ever since Gates stepped down from Microsoft in 2006, he and his wife, Melinda, have been committed to reducing poverty around the world, typically through the Gates Foundation, and improving education in the US. He's spent a lot of time learning about what makes successful communities, visiting farms, and reading up on the best ways to reuse and recycle.

The picture that has emerged for Gates, like many interested in future urban planning, is one in which cities can support a growing population with limited resources. The UN predicts 2.5 billion people will move into cities by 2050. Experts say that migration will only be feasible if there's housing, transportation, and digital communication that can bear the burden.

In many cities, infrastructure technology is decades old and holds the city back.

Belmont Partners said in a statement that the city "will transform a raw, blank slate into a purpose-built edge city built around a flexible infrastructure model." It has not yet specified a timeline for construction. Rainwater said that when details are released, he hopes technology will serve as the "backbone" of the city, "not the purpose of its existence."

"I do hope that there will be a core focus on design, livability, and the people who will live, work, and play there," he said.

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