Bill Gates gets bored, plans to build ‘smart’ city on the edge of Phoenix

The Tempe, AZ skyline. Inspiration for Belmont?

Bill Gates, presumably after getting bored saving the world, has a new tech project in his sights: a ‘smart’ edge city about 50 miles west of Phoenix.

The Arizona-based real estate investment company Belmont Partners announced on Friday that the billionaire Microsoft founder recently dropped $80 million on 25,000 acres approximately 45 minutes west of downtown Phoenix. Belmont, as it’s currently being called, will accommodate 80,000 residential units, 3,800 acres of industrial and commercial space, and 3,400 acres of open space. 470 additional acres will be set aside for public schools.

The desolate parcel of land is located between 371st and 330th avenues north of I-10 and south of the Central Arizona Project Canal running west of Phoenix.

The approximate location of Belmont. It’ll rise out of the desert sand like… a phoenix.

Once developed, Belmont is expected to equal the size and population of Tempe, AZ, which is currently home to 160,000 residents just southeast of Phoenix. It appears that Gates is banking on plans to extend the new I-11 corridor south from Las Vegas, connecting to I-10 west of Phoenix via a beltway that, as you might have guessed, will run right past Gates’ property.

If everything goes as planned, Belmont may become the first model urban utopia to be built in the U.S. in decades, serving as “a template for the development of a sustainable city capitalizing on cutting-edge infrastructure.” What sets the development apart from previous utopian communities is a focus on technological rather than religious, social, or political aims.

The idea of building a better city from scratch is a very old concept, however. Some 3,500 years ago the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten constructed an entirely new city in the Sahara Desert to worship the sun god and serve as the empire’s new capitol. The ancient utopian community was not meant to last; the capitol was moved back to Memphis shortly after his death.

Ebenezer Howard’s ‘garden city’ concept, published in England in 1902, sought to combine the best attributes of the city and the countryside in a new system of circular cities linked by rail. Only a few model garden cities were actually built in the 20th century (including Radburn, NJ), but the concept lives on as the progenitor of the modern American suburb.

An optimistic rendering of Masdar City outside Abu Dhabi.

Belmont also brings to mind Masdar city, a master-planned community under construction outside Abu Dhabi. Masdar city is being built with the goal of minimizing CO2 emissions by integrating dense land use, public transit, and renewable energy sources.

Given that this is Gates’ project, it’s no surprise that Belmont is expected to take advantage of all the latest technology including “advances in solar power and electric distribution systems, autonomous auto testing, broadband, and data centers”, said Larry Yount, Manager of Belmont Partners.

With all the sunshine in this part of the country, there’s no doubt that renewable energy will play a key role in Gates’ glorified technoburb. Water security, public transit, and affordable housing, however, are less certain. Let’s hope Belmont turns out to be more Windows XP than ME.


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