Utopia and Sprawl

Right Now with Nick Smith (LinkedIn/Twitter)

What I’m Listening to: Fountains of Wayne — Utopia Parkway

What I’m Watching: Shameless Season 8


Recently I saw an article on Popular Mechanics’ website with a headline that REALLY caught my eye:

“BILL GATES BUYS BIG CHUNK OF LAND IN ARIZONA TO BUILD ‘SMART CITY'”

Cool

… and I thought, “Man, how cool is that?” As one of the few public servants I know with a background in tech, I’m always looking for the points where the two merge — however, I’m finding that more and more the ideas seem to focus the burden of this “new” utopian ideal more on where and how people do than where and how people live, and moreover, they seem shortsighted.

Now, far be it from me to call one of the visionaries of my field and our time “shortsighted,” so what’s actually going on here?

First of all, the project actually seems like Bill Gates doesn’t have much, if anything to do with it. Secondly, it’s not like, part of an existing city … it is just land. Roughly 25,000 acres of it, about 50 miles from Phoenix.

But more to my point, whatever could make this city “smart” is far outweighed by the dumbness of taking untouched land, without people, who don’t live there because it’s nowhere near water or infrastructure, and trying to mount some arrogant boondoggle of a revolt against those facts. And what’s even going to make it “smart,” anyway? Let’s go to the 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”

Oh, okay, so, just amalgamating stuff that’s already being done piecemeal in other population centers? Um … great!

Oh! Yeah, sure

So, this brings me to my final question:

Most people who already live in cities already live in cities, and have things like jobs and homes, and aren’t likely to move to the outskirts of nowhere just to take part in some grand technological experiment just for what’ll amount to faster internet.

Why don’t we just focus on doing this where there are extant people and things that you can leverage for the greatest symbiotic benefit? Testing is a huge part of any technology product, no matter how large & innovative or minuscule & humdrum. Furthermore, if you can’t figure out a way to integrate existing your technology into structures (physical and social), I don’t know how to tell you this, but your project might be a little bit doomed.

Besides, if sprawl and technological advancement are already both going to happen, why wouldn’t we encourage the one with a chance to make our lives better?

Sprawl

(hint: not this one)