A 15 Square Mile Urban Lab

Labs are places where we conduct experiments to learn more about a phenomena, testing spaces that enrich our understanding and allow us to follow our intuitions in rigorous ways. As far as lab space is concerned, the proposal by Pegasus Global Holdings to scratch-build a mid-sized American city as a testing location is ambitious - lab space taken to a substantial level.

Developed on a 15 square mile parcel of land near Hobbs, New Mexico, the private firm will explore data networks, transportation, agriculture and many other aspects of life in cities. The objective is to help us understand what it means to negotiate the so-called transition from "dumb cities" to smart cities. Legacy cities are too encumbered by sustaining the legacy so PGH wants to take the infrastructure and then run all kinds of experiements in, on, and around  that infrastructure.

Given the overview article from Fast Company, it is unclear how the human factor will be taken into affect - ie what happens when you add humans as is found in the "dumb" cities we now live in. I can understand their interest in testing autonomous vehicles in a setting like this but we have long known (or are slowly relearning) that whatever technical solutions we may envision or create, the people become the most significant barrier to or endorsement of changes of one kind or another. I have written about this elsewhere but it remains a very critical factor, it is the critical factor that will determine whether or not we change rapidly enough to survive and flourish over the long term. 

Somehow, testing technologies and running experiments with everything but the people seems a bit off but perhaps experimental spaces like PGH envisions are a necessary step toward more realistic solutions in our urban spaces.

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