Bitcoin and its competitors haven’t managed to topple the world’s existing currencies just yet, but the blockchain technology underpinning them might soon be making the leap to urbanism.
As The New York Times revealed, millionaire lawyer Jeffrey Berns has bought up 100 square miles in the Nevada desert and tapped Los Angeles’s Tom Wiscombe Architecture and Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects (EYRC) to design an as-of-yet-unnamed, futuristic city. Complete with homes, offices, a college, and research campus, the city will, if it gets built, also introduce a novel form of urban citizenship that allows citizens to vote on the blockchain.
What is the blockchain? The digital currency Bitcoin was the tool’s first proof-of-concept, but the underlying technology, a ledger shared among all users of a service that allows for trackable peer-to-peer transactions without a middleman, has uses in nearly every field. Improving efficiency on construction sites and documenting the chain of ownership for artwork are only a few of the potential uses proposed for the technology (and unlike Bitcoin, don’t involve destroying the environment).
Berns made his fortune on the rise of Ethereum, a Bitcoin competitor indirectly pegged to its value (as many other cryptocurrencies are). While the prices of cryptocurrencies are constantly in flux, Ethereum allows for more than the transfer of more information than just monetary value. Berns has proposed that all future residents will be given an Ethereum-based ID, which they can use to hold their personal information and securely vote from.
Berns has already spent a reported $300 million on the city through his company Blockchains LLC, including commissioning a set of renderings of the future smart city from Wiscombe and EYRC. The architects went big, and plans include a technology park for the advancement of artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, and nanotechnology, all integrated into a blockchain-based system. Vertical manufacturing and workplace hybrid typologies have also been proposed, and from the renderings, it appears that many of the buildings might be clad in dizzying panel arrays that recall circuit boards and harken back to Wiscombe’s previous work.
For the residential portion, Berns has already received pre-approval for thousands of homes, which will vary from single-family houses to mixed-use blocks to communal buildings. The preliminary designs for the larger housing complexes draw on existing desert precedents and will bring a touch of Arcosanti-meets-Blade-Runner to the city.
Drone deliveries, fully electric autonomous vehicles that can weave between indoor and outdoor spaces, and plans to power the city off of 100 percent renewable energy are all on the table. It might seem pie in the sky, as so many utopian communities are, but Blockchains LLC is already engaging with the residents of Storey County, Nevada, and the tech companies who have industrial parks at the border of the 67,000-acre plot. The feedback gathered will go towards putting together a master plan and the environmental impact statement; construction is slated to begin at the end of 2019 if all goes as planned.