Smart Cities Don’t Have Dumb Buildings

In the last couple of days, there has been a lot of press coverage about the large land acquisition (25,000 acres) in Arizona executed by real estate developer, Belmont Partners, a venture funded by Cascade Investment LLC, which is tied to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The acquisition was $80,000,000 for land close to the Interstate 11 development which is another hotbed project connecting Mexico to Canada. The land is about 40 miles west of Phoenix.

With Amazon currently looking across the country for the “right location” for its headquarters, would Belmont, Arizona be a new contender?

I believe it would be because Belmont is starting up from scratch. There is no legacy infrastructure to have to deal with and that is the problem with all the other cities currently in contention. The buildings need to have fiber optics running to two central offices and have adequate wireless network capabilities throughout the entire building for coverage as well as capacity for connectivity.

Old infrastructure that was developed and installed in the late 19th and 20th centuries need to be replaced or added to, in order to provide the 21st century mission critical power and connectivity.

You cannot have a Smart City with dumb buildings and that is exactly what all the other cities have in common. Buildings which cannot support mission critical applications because they have a couple of glaring single points-of-failure that they must deal with: power and broadband connectivity.

In the horse-and-buggy days, a commercial building would get one connection to the power grid (the substation), and one connection to the telephone central office.

Today, in order to accommodate mission critical applications, a commercial location should have diverse routes for power and connectivity. Those routes should be redundant. If you look for that type of criteria, most buildings in all large cities are technologically obsolete.

This is the new rule-of-thumb to adhere to if you are going to attract and maintain corporate tenants who have mission critical applications. Mission critical applications, by definition, should not have any single point of failure. Corporations have one out of every three applications defined as mission critical and that number is growing from three-to-one to two-to-one.

Hence, all the buildings in Belmont, Arizona should be built with diverse, redundant connectivity to both power and broadband services.

Belmont could be a great location for Amazon’s headquarters. It could also be good for other corporate developments that require a fresh infrastructure focused on supporting state-of-the-art and mission critical applications.

Initial plans for Belmont include up to 80,000 residential units, 3,400 acres of open space, and intelligent business campuses (for commercial and retail) that spread across 3,800 acres. The residential units should also provide high-speed broadband connectivity.

In some respects, Belmont could become the equivalent of Cyberport which is in Hong Kong. Cyberport supports many start-ups as well as mature companies. Through Cyberport and its facilities, over 300 start-ups have been rolled out. That is a significant number even compared to 1871, the start-up incubator in Chicago.

The infrastructure in Belmont should become the blueprint for other Smart cities. All buildings in already-established cities need to take inventory of what they offer and don’t offer. When it comes to intelligent amenities, redundant power and redundant broadband connectivity, most buildings do not offer these features to their tenants.

The idea of retrofitting older buildings with these intelligent amenities is the only way they will be able to compete in the 21st century. Maybe Amazon should hold off in its quest to look for a city for its headquarters?