Blockchains LLC Dream of a Smart City Hits Speed Bump

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Smart cities may be considered the governing and city management systems of the future by some. But in Northern Nevada, commissioners have opposed the idea of a semi-autonomous “Innovation Zone.”

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Commissioners from Storey County, Nevada, voted against the smart city proposal by Blockchains LLC with the support of Democratic governor Steve Sisolak. This proposal asks the government to allow Blockchains to build its city on the  67,000 acres of land it owns in the county. 

In addition to county commissioners, a Storey County water district also voted against the legislation.  

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These two rejections are a speed bump for the company, which prides itself on “innovating with unlimited velocity.” The company estimates the city will take 10-15 years to build out, but this is only once approved by the government and given the go-ahead. It hopes to break ground in 2022. 

Much of the opposition to the idea of this “Innovation Zone” is the semi-autonomous nature of its proposed governance. The county commissioners disapprove of the concept of an area being self-governed, separate from the county rules and regulations.

Blockchain LLC’s Smart City Vision  

Blockchains LLC founder Jeffery Berns sees Nevada as a welcoming state for blockchain innovation after it voted to recognize blockchain technology. He considered this an indication that it would be open to his plan to build a smart city. 

In 2018, he bought the land on which he hopes to build a hi-tech mini-state built upon and runs on tech innovation, specifically concerning blockchains. 

The company explains Berns’s vision on their website as a city beyond what is currently “smart.” Rather than merely having sensors, smart assistants, and similar technology, this smart city aims to build everything from the ground up. 

“Residents, businesses, governing bodies, and public services within the community will require a foundation principled by privacy and secured access controls as well as general connectivity, transparency, and efficiency,” the company’s outline explains. 

As is raised in the commissioners’ rejection of the proposal, the Innovation Zone aims to utilize county resources and governance only until it considers itself prepared. At this time, the board can vote to take on these responsibilities. 

Smart City Success 

There is yet to be a smart city built entirely from the ground up as Berns aims to do. So far, most places considered to be smart cities or on their way are big popular global cities that are doing what Berns doesn’t want, building on top of infrastructure already in place. 

The city best known for this is Singapore. The city-state has been incredibly public about its vision to build itself into a smart city with its Smart Nation Programme. This program intends to transform Singapore into a city-state powered by digital innovation, from the government to the citizens.

One such innovation is the ‘Virtual Singapore‘ dashboard. This is a dynamic 3D model, and the government is championing a collaborative data platform as an integrated solution to city life. The platform would collect data to help the government make decisions around resource management, urban planning, research, and development. 

On a more practical and achievable level, cities like Barcelona and New York have applied smart city principles for environmental improvements, specifically smart streetlights. These LED sensor lights save the cities money on their energy bill and are expected to be able to have more use cases in the future as the technology progresses. 

The Dark Side of Smart Cities 

Singapore appears to be integrating it’s smart city initiatives with public support and investment. This is not true of all countries initiating smart technology programmes. This has raised questions about the protections for citizens and the relationship between technology and authority. 

Berns dream of having everyone, from government to private citizens, on a traceable digital public ledger speaks to concerns around surveillance and control. 

While building such a city will improve safety and security thanks to the increased protections, surveillance and analysis such an integrated system creates, it also brings up concerns around surveillance for control. 

Already in authoritarian countries, governments are utilizing smart technologies like artificial intelligence to police their citizens. China uses facial recognition software to capture criminals. For example, those wanted by the police and even shame jaywalkers and those who have outstanding fines on massive public billboards. 

While this is in the context of national governments, much of the concern around these semi-autonomous proposals is that they could slip into a technology-based authoritarian regime since they govern themselves. 

The timeline for smart cities is still a ways off, with mostly smaller projections getting greenlit by local governments. More controversial ideas like building autonomous cities from the ground-up without government oversight are likely to take even longer.

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