The city of the future will not be the cold metal domes or Mars settlements of science fiction movies. It will be a community of 19,500 homes surrounded by thousands of acres of green space and capable of producing its own energy — in total harmony with the environment.
And that future is now.
Residents started to move this month to homes in the utopian paradise of Babcock Ranch, northeast of Fort Myers and a three-hour drive from Miami. Its most distinguishing characteristic: It will rely 100 percent on solar energy.
It's the first totally ecological, self-sustaining city in the United States, a living laboratory for businesses, government and citizens.
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Like all technology, the new city has raised questions, such as how can it avoid depending on traditional methods of generating electricity.
Developer Syd Kitson, a former offensive guard with the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, said his city has one of the world's biggest photovoltaic solar energy generation fields, with 343,000 panels laid out along 440 acres, equaling 200 football fields. The solar plant was built in partnership with Florida Power & Light (FPL).
“I've been asked if I got hit on the head too many times when I played football,” Kitson said in an interview with BBC World. But he insisted that it is a realistic and profitable idea. “It's much easier and cheaper if you plan it that way from the beginning,” he said.
Babcock Ranch has an integrated smart network that allows residents to monitor and control their electricity consumption. Self-driving electrical buses are already making test runs in the center of the city, about equal to the size of Manhattan.
Residents and visitors can use the shared transportation system to rent bicycles and explore the city and its pathways through green areas full of cattle, birds and alligators.
James and Donna Aveck will be moving to Babcock Ranch in mid-January. The Michigan natives retired to Punta Gorda more than 10 years ago. They just bought a 1,955-square-foot home in the new development.
The new city has “all of the innovation we love, because we embrace change, but we also love the friendliness of the place,” Donna Aveck, who is convinced that global warming is a major problem, told the Naples Daily News. “We are attracted by the idea of protecting the environment and having community paths and gardens. We feel at peace as soon as we get here.”
Because the Avecks bought into the pioneer project at its very start, the developers named a lake in the new city “Lake James.” Babcock Ranch is expected to eventually reach 50,000 residents.
Follow Daniel Shoer Roth on Facebook and Twitter: @DanielShoerRoth.