The State Of The Smart City

Because infrastructure quality and property value growth so often go hand in hand, it stands to reason that improved infrastructure including energy, water, transportation and communications technology, is an economic challenge the commercial property industry has a great interest in. But rolling out new technologies without testing can cause chaos of all kinds.  How can new ideas in infrastructure be tested without putting life, limb and property value at risk?

Across the globe, the tricky problem of testing new infrastructure outside of computer simulations has been attacked from a few different angles, producing three giant projects that will amaze anyone familiar with the real estate development process. Catch up with the state of the “smart city”


CITE City, Lea County, NM

To facilitate end-to-end testing of technologies such as smart cars, you can always put hundreds of millions into building a testing laboratory the size of a small city. That’s exactly what an investment group is planning in the desert outside of Hobbs, New Mexico.  Conceived as a laboratory modeled somewhat on Rock Hill, SC (the state’s fifth largest city), CITE City is a smart city project that leaves out the population on purpose. The design can hold 35,000 people, but by design, never will.

PlanIT Valley, Portugal

Technology CEO Steve Lewis has taken a page from legendary Chicago developer Daniel Burnham’s book.  “Make no small plans,” intoned Burnham, and Lewis has obliged. Moving a step beyond CITE City’s laboratory-at-scale, zero population approach, Lewis envisions PlanIT Valley as a bona fide city.  The venture included major technology vendors including internetworking giant Cisco, Microsoft and Phillips. Located outside of Porto in northern Portugal, the built-from-scratch smart city project is aimed at housing a population between 150,000 and 225,000 people.

Masdar City, United Arab Emirates

The eldest and most-built of the three projects, Masdar City is named for its developer, a sustainable energy company based in Abu Dhabi. Sporting a population in the thousands, Masdar City’s expansion plan has as its cornerstone attraction of business, promising immediately available office space and “nonexistent import tariffs and taxes”.  Striking architecture that finds harmony with the harsh desert conditions rises above a fully modern smart transportation grid and vibrant, if modest in size, urban fabric.


These megaprojects are here to be studied as economic, technologic and social laboratories.  It’s up to the commercial real estate industry to update its best practices by including what these projects can teach.

Learn about smart growth and infrastructure by attending selected sessions at Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) Spring Meeting, CCIM Thrive Conference October 27-28  or IREM Fall Leadership Conference.


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