Tuesday, 14 November 2017

TreeHugger/Lloyd Alter: Bill Gates wants to build a "smart city" in the Arizona desert. Smart move?

Bill Gates wants to build a "smart city" in the Arizona desert. Smart move?

Lloyd Alter

Lloyd Alter (@lloydalter)
Design / Urban Design
November 13, 2017
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desert
Screen capture This looks like the perfect place to build a city

Bill Gates just plopped down 80 million bucks to buy 25,000 acres of desert west of Phoenix to build a "smart city" to be called Belmont. According to his development partners, quoted in Popular Mechanics,

    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.

A new freeway is being built that will connect to Las Vegas, making it "an ideal spot for a new community." The developer notes that "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."

No doubt it will be a fascinating infrastructure model, given that the two elements of infrastructure that a city needs most are electric power, most of which comes from fossil fuels in Arizona, and water, most of which comes from Colorado. Solar panels can handle the former, but what about the latter?

Then there is the small matter of climate change and rising temperatures in the area. According to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, Phoenix is "currently the fastest warming big city in the US", and it is estimated that by 2050 it will be uninhabitable. From Vice:

    A study from Climate Central last year projects that Phoenix's summer weather will be on average three to five degrees hotter by 2050. Meanwhile, that average number of 100-degree days will have skyrocketed by almost 40, to 132, according to another 2016 Climate Central study. (For reference, over a comparable period, New York City is expected to go from two to 15 100-degree days.)

According to Steve Hanley in TriplePundit, in the face of rising temperatures and shrinking water supplies,

    Phoenix is a cautionary tale for why rational people should begin planning now for the effects of climate change. But will they? If past history is any guide, the prospects for such appropriate decision making are dim and getting fainter by the day.

Belmont
This looks so Arizona!/Screen capture

Bill Gates is a smart guy. But is building a new city in the middle of the Arizona desert in the 21st century sensible? And look at this rendering, a screen shot from the news video. This ain't no Arcosanti, designed for the Arizona climate; it looks like every suburb in the USA. I do hope that this is just the developer's pitch and not a serious architectural proposal.

It is obviously early stages for this, but Arizona seems like a dumb place to build a smart city.
Related on TreeHugger.com:

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    It Has Now Been Over 110 Degrees in Phoenix For Nine Straight Days
    drought-southwest-climate-change.jpg

    Climate Change to Worsen Severe Water Shortages in US Southwest
    The wave

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    Wombling Wombat an hour ago

    Bill Gates is no dummy, Microsoft proves that, perhaps he's building the city in Arizona due to the coming Ice Age (remember he's a visionary) that he sees coming and not global warming?

    Other than that, I'd like to know where he's going to get the water, water isn't the same in AZ as it is in Washington state where he has a lake front home. I'm sure he knows about AZ's water situation but would like to have him share his solution with the rest of us, it could be a game changer for the world.
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    Robert an hour ago

    "...with a communication and infrastructure spine that embraces cutting-edge technology, designed around high-speed digital networks, data centers..."

    Gates made his fortune in software. Like most tech executives, it's the only tool in his mental kit, and he thinks that just spreading digital pixie dust over everything makes it better. When all you've got is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
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    About Creativity 2 hours ago

    Very very very good first step.
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    Mark Chapmon 3 hours ago

    If he has plans to build this in the desert, I hope he has plans to build a couple of massive desalinization plants and pipelines to bring water from the Pacific in to sustain the population there. It could be a great way to lower (by a sliver) the seawater level and who knows, maybe your water bill in Belmont would be less than $500.00/month. It would take a lot (no, a lot bigger than that) of water to grow enough trees to help mitigate the temperature problems of living in one of the hottest places in the continental US. Solar PV should be only a little less effective, due to the heat, because solar panels like colder weather.

    But hey, Bill Gates is seriously rich so maybe he knows something we don't? Like, "a fool's born every day," or something.....
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    lifehighlights 3 hours ago

    There is nothing sustainable in building a new city in the desert. 80 million could have gone to improve public transportation in Phoenix. I did not hear anyone say sustainable in the youtube clip though, so for them sustainable is not smart.
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    max 8 hours ago

    This site is much better suited for solar power plants than human habitation. The power could be used by Phoenix and maybe LA down the road if Phoenix is abandoned because of soaring temperatures and drought.

    Gates should build this somewhere in his neck of the woods. The Pacific North West has adequate water and a more mild climate better suited to sustainable living and a lower cooling bill for all those data centers.
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    none 11 hours ago

    Sustainable city?
    So are we building a city where:
    1.) We are only using velomobiles like ELF, PEBL POD, or regular bikes.
    2.) All water is recycled.
    3.) People live in ~600sf tiny-homes.
    4.) All of these tiny homes have a 6kW solar array and 20kWh battery, only grid-tie is for when/if battery dies and cannot be charged by the home array.
    5.) Each house grows as much food(plant-based of course) as possible.
    6.) We have some small farms to supply any food the residents cannot grow themselves.
    7.) All waste is recycled or composted, diverting 100% of the waste stream away from landfills.
    That is my definition of a sustainable city.

    Other than high solar capacity and flat landscape for bikes, Arizona is pretty bad for a sustainable city. And we cannot expect people to bike to work in ~130f temperatures, which, if we keep our current pace, will be a reality by 2040 or sooner.

    Actually, I would(if I had funding), build a truly sustainable city somewhere in Northern California.
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    Stacey Champion 11 hours ago

    The last thing we need here is more sprawl. Plus, http://www.azcentral.com/st...
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    Chris H 12 hours ago

    If (IF) the goal here is true sustainability... as anything not sustainable isn't smart... then maybe there's a plan for closed loop waste water recycling and indoor hydroponic filtration... given that, the city may just be able to operate on nothing but natural average rainfall.

    Of course calling it a 'Smart' city is a much better name than a 're-drink your own urine over and over' city...
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    John Patrick 19 hours ago

    I came back to Arizona to battle climate change in the most difficult conditions. If we can get it figured out here, then the rest of the planet has a chance. I agree on the renderings, but I think that people SHOULD be trying to design for the outliers, rather than cheating and pretending that solving the crisis for a few folks in Maine is really putting a dent on the problem.
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        Chris H John Patrick 12 hours ago

        Unfortunately, climate change isn't something you can fight locally. Any square mile of perfect, carbon negative, super green, sustainable paradise you create will be subject to the same average CO2 levels and warming trend as the rest of the planet. China spewing out CO2 screws the duck for all of us...
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    No_Diggity a day ago

    Smart City: No natural water source. Ground so hard that you can't dig a basement to take advantage of natural earth contact cooling. Way too high ambient temperatures. Car dependence.

    I'm not really seeing the "smart" in this city.
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        GeneralDisorder No_Diggity 4 hours ago

        He should have Elon Musk talk it up since every hair-brained bit of drivel that comes out of his mouth is accepted as a brilliant part of the scientific revolution (and yet Elon believes we live inside a computer simulation and no one seems to bring that up when you talk about how brainless the hyperloop is or how SpaceX rockets are still rockets and still have all the safety issues that other rockets do and he wants to land them upright using thrust and therefore waste the most efficient part of a rocket's thrust).
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