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smart city
Elkus Manfredi Architects

Who Needs Pilot Projects When We Can Just Start a New City?

Pilot projects used to be the inevitable starting point for technology that would be interfacing with government controlled infrastructure. Now it seems like big firms and investment funds are just fast-tracking the proof of concept process and building new smart cities from scratch.

The newest entrant into the smart development scene is LStar Ventures, based in Raleigh, N.C., that is building a smart city with futuristic amenities like driverless shuttle services, heated sidewalks and a super-resilient energy grid that keeps humming through the harshest of storms. The site is 12 miles south of Boston. The project is known as Union Point.

This smart city will consist of 1,200 occupied single-family homes, townhouses and apartments, as well as a nearly completed $28 million sports complex with a miniature replica of Fenway Park. The community’s glass towers, public plazas, clustered housing, scattered parks and retail zones will be contained within 500 acres, leaving the rest as dedicated open space.

General Electric will use Union Point as a laboratory for testing new products and as a showroom for working systems. The company will also install “intelligent” lighting – streetlights with sensors that can track sound, light and other conditions. The data can be used to monitor traffic, help drivers find parking spaces and alert law enforcement if a gun is fired. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology plans to open an innovation center in the air station’s old power plant. The center will house an interactive planning tool called CityScope, which will allow users to visualize and explore trade-offs between density, transportation and walkability.

smart cityThe first commercial tenant is Prodrive Technologies, a Dutch company that develops and manufactures products for the automotive, medical and other industries. There is also Optimus Ride, an autonomous vehicle startup in Boston, who will set up self-driving vehicle services at Union Point.

There are other examples of newly built smart cities like Alphabets’ Sidewalk Labs in Toronto and a piece of land on the outskirts of Tampa that is being used by accelerator DreamIt. Being able to complete real-world trails on new technology faster than the competition could be the difference between the winners and loser of the PropTech race.

There are downsides, of course. Some ambitious smart city projects have proved perilous. Songdo, a smart city in South Korea, is a prime example. The city boasts advanced connectivity, but it has so far failed to meet expectations international businesses and residents.

There has been a trend of investors spending more money on fewer, later stage companies in the PropTech space, something that is not uncommon as industries mature. The next step in the advancement of the investing landscape might require new ground to be broken. If this is the case it would give even more advantage to large, influential companies that could pay for infrastructure and negotiate with local governments.

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