In the arid plains of the southern New Mexico desert, between the site of the first atomic bomb test and the U.S.-Mexico border, a new city is rising from the sand.
Planned for a population of 35,000, the city will showcase a modern business district downtown, and neat rows of terraced housing in the suburbs. It will be supplied with pristine streets, parks, malls and a church.
But no one will ever call it home.
The CITE (Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation) project is a full-scale model of an ordinary American town. Yet it will be used as a petri dish to develop new technologies that will shape the future of the urban environment.
The $1 billion scheme, led by telecommunications and tech firm Pegasus Global Holdings, will see 15-square-miles dedicated to ambitious experiments in fields such as transport, construction, communication and security.
CITE will include specialized zones for developing new forms of agriculture, energy, and water treatment. An underground data collection network will provide detailed, real-time feedback.
“The vision is an environment where new products, services and technologies can be demonstrated and tested without disrupting everyday life,” says Pegasus Managing Director Robert Brumley.
Without a human population to worry about, the possibilities are endless.
Driverless vehicles could be used on responsive roads, monitored from above by traffic drones. Homes could be designed to survive natural disasters, and fitted with robotic features. Alternative energy sources such as Thorium power could be tested at scale.
“You can bring new things to have them stressed, break them, and find out the laws of unintended consequences,” says Brumley. “This should become like a magnet where people with ideas and technologies come, and not just test but interact.”
The director describes CITE as an “intermediary step” between lab testing a technology and it reaching the public. He believes the process will deliver more market-ready products and address the ‘Valley of Death’ – the shortfall that exists between investment in research and development, and the revenues this generates.
“The US spends billions of dollars on research and gets 2-3% return in commercial products,” says Brumley. “This facility could extend and increase the return.”
If you build it, they will come
After first being proposed in 2011, CITE struggled to find suitable land and the project was shelved for two years. One site close to the Organ Mountains was nixed when President Obama declared it part of a National Monument.
But a new location has been chosen, and pending the release of commercial licenses, work can begin. Builders will be on site this year, and the city could be operational as early as 2018.
Pegasus has support from the state of New Mexico, which signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging its commitment to the project, including through “advice and guidance” on the epic construction.
The company expects CITE to attract prestige clients from the public and commercial sectors, including government departments, academic institutions and some of the world’s largest technology companies. It is hoped that the city could eventually rival tech hubs such as Silicon Valley.
But CITE’s managing director is confident his project will stand out; as the only city that is purely for testing, for the variety and scale of experimentation it allows, and for the range of clients it can serve.
“The facility is open to anybody who wants to test,” says Brumley. “That makes it unique.”
‘Technologies need people’
The concept has been welcomed by leading urban planning experts.