The City of the Future is Becoming a Reality in Florida

This planned community is the first fully solar-powered town in the US.

Dec 12, 2018

(Danila Shtantsov / Shutterstock.com)

The city of the future is not a utopian dream anymore. It is becoming a reality in the form of a newly planned eco-community in Southern Florida. The new town called, Babcock Ranch, is located just north of Fort Myers.

Babcock Ranch has the incredibly unique status of being the first solar-powered town in the US. It was developed from the beginning to be an eco-community and the first thing that was built was a massive solar power farm with 350,000 photovoltaic solar panels.

Syd Kitson, a former NFL lineman with the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers and Chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners - the project's developer - gave the land for the solar farm to Florida Power and Light. The utility installed all the panels, wires and storage batteries. But the story doesn't begin here.

Babcock Ranch actually began with the utopian vision Kitson had to develop a town in a radically different sustainable model. When a 17,000-acre ranch in Florida went up for sale 10 years ago, the owners could have sold it to any type of developer and there were many high bids. Instead of selling to the highest bidder, the owners chose a developer – Kitson & Partners – that said it wanted to preserve most of the land and develop an innovative and sustainable new town on the rest.

The planned community was approved as part of a public-private partnership with the state of Florida and local governments. Around 80 percent of the land was to remain undeveloped in a preserve that includes more than half of the area that Kitson & Partners purchased. The rest of the preserve includes land owned by Florida and Lee County.

It took a decade of planning before the first residents moved into the town at the beginning of 2018. When the town is fully developed, they expect to have 45,000 people living there, according to Babcock Ranch's website. Electric and autonomous vehicles are planned to transport residents around town and there are bike paths and sidewalks throughout.

"It’s easier to start from scratch with better infrastructure than to retrofit an existing suburb or city," Kitson & Partners told Fast Company. "How you design your roads – thinking about pedestrian walkways and bike paths, if you’re making it walkable and bikeable and pedestrian-friendly – doing that from the beginning is much easier.”

The homes run from $190,000 to $499,000 and there are stores in the town square, offices and already a K-7 school in the town. There are 150 homes now and more are contracted to be built or are already being constructed. When complete, there will be 19,500 homes and  6 million feet of commercial space in the town.

The first residents were Richard and Robin Kinsley who moved from an Atlanta suburb. They were not at all worried about being pioneers.

“A lot of people would say, ‘I am going to see if it takes off.’ But I felt the same way as when I bought my Tesla years ago, and now I have 100,000 miles on it," they told the Herald-Tribune. "People warned me that the company might not make it,” Richard Kinsley told the Herald-Tribune. “But I feel my intuition is fairly good, and I was like, ‘I’m sold. It’s going to work.’”

Another resident, Josh Day, told Fox News why living in Babcock Ranch is important to him. "To be able to be a part of a community of everyone that cares, and wants that for them, not only for themselves but also for their children and their grandchildren, to have it be a more clean Earth whenever our children are older.”

Two planned sustainable new cities have not lived up to their promise; possibly because of the sizes of the planned communities. Masdar in the United Arab Emirates was intended to be a zero-carbon, zero-waste city but the completion date has been moved from 2016 to 2030 and will not meet its environmental goals. In South Korea, the planned city Songdo is also under-populated and uncompleted.

Babcock Ranch is a much smaller scale development and is being built in stages. John Woolschlager, an urban planning professor at nearby Florida Gulf Coast University, told Fox News that "All cities can ultimately follow Babcock Ranch’s model, but it will take years. Babcock Ranch’s huge advantage was that it’s being built from scratch with the self-sustainability and pro-environment philosophy on the ground first."

"Building a new town from the ground up is no small feat," according to the developers. But they are working to make the vision a reality and have a really good shot at being a very successful role model for the city of the future.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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