The Empty City

Christie Chisholm
3 min read
The Empty City
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Robert Brumley wants to build a ghost city in the middle of the desert. The CEO of Pegasus Global Holdings, a technology development company, has a surreal plan: Construct an entire city spanning 20 square miles over two years. Build enough homes to shelter 350,000 people. Erect a downtown, cobble together a warehouse district, save some green space, put in an “old town,” even run an interstate right through the middle of it. But don’t let anyone live there.

Humans are disruptive variables.

The uninhabited city will serve as a testing ground for new technologies. Brumley says the project, which is called The Center (short for The Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation) will be open to all sorts of emerging techs.

The technology he’s most excited about taking for a test-drive are in the fields of geothermal power, water purification, broadband efficiency, self-driving vehicles and security systems. Far from being a Hollywood set, the idea is to make The Center as real as possible. Researchers will have the ability to remotely flush toilets and change thermostats inside homes—things that mimic human habitation. “The more we replicate everything we do city-wise,” he says, “the better we can measure the technology.”

Pegasus Global is based in Washington, D.C. but plans on building The Center somewhere in New Mexico. Brumley says Pegasus chose the state due to its federally funded resources, educated workforce, highway systems and ample amount of undeveloped land. “Add all that up, and it makes perfect sense to go to New Mexico,” he says. “And that doesn’t even take into account the number of sunny days.”

Perhaps one of the most unusual aspects of the $200 million project is that it will be privately funded but will primarily be used by the federal government. “Usually it’s the other way around,” says Brumley. He adds that since taxpayers won’t have to pay for the the project’s construction or operation, it will free up more federal dollars for research. “That to me is the really cool story here,” he says. “This is very quietly becoming a new paradigm on how the government and the private sector interact with each other.”

The final destination for The Center has yet to be selected, but Brumley wants it to be close to an “abundance of raw material,” he says. Ideally, he’d like to place it close to fresh water resources, but he’s also open to using brackish water or saltwater. Since part of the intended use for the project is testing water purification and desalinization technologies, he hopes to eventually be able to sell excess, purified water wholesale to local communities.

The next step is a five-month feasibility study to determine all the details of The Center, including where it will be and what it will look like. Pegasus is looking for public participation on those and other aspects of the project and plans on releasing user-friendly, electronic, 3D versions of the early designs for the city.

Brumley expects to break ground on the project in June 2012 and says it should be functional by 2014. “There is no facility like The Center in both scale and scope and its complexity anywhere in the world,” he says. “I have to admit, it’s a genius project.”
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