Union Point: Boston’s purpose-built smart city

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Alice Cruickshank

Smart traffic lights, driverless cars and responsive energy systems are all set to become prevalent in the cities of tomorrow, as proptech developments reshape how urban landscapes look and work.

But while many cities around the globe are beginning to welcome smart technology retrospectively, Union Point was built for it.

Launched in partnership between property developer LStar Ventures and General Electric, Union Point will be a testing ground for new technology. Here innovation will not be an afterthought: it is intrinsic to the development.

Investing in the future

More than $200m has been spent on infrastructure so far, and another $100m will be spent over the next two years.

General Electric will install technology such as sensor-based smart streetlights and pavements. This data will then be analysed using the company’s own Predix platform, to continually improve the user experience – though what exactly this means is not entirely clear.

Union Point has also signed a contract with Optimus Ride‘s driverless fleet to provide self-driving taxis. Though the scheme is yet to begin, it is thought to be the world’s first revenue-generating autonomous vehicle pilot.

LStarVentures Union Point

People-first technology

But Union Point is designed to be more than a technological testing ground. The partners describe the project as having the “mission of enhancing the human experience”, with a commitment to the arts and nature as well as the latest digital advancements.

The development promises over 10m sq ft of commercial space, 4,000 private residences, 50 miles of hiking and biking trails and 1,000 acres of open space, all 20 minutes commutable distance from Boston.

The creators certainly have Utopian ideals. “When people ask me what Union Point is in one succinct sentence I can’t do it,” ruminates Kyle Corkum, managing partner of LStar in a promotional video for the town. “It’s more than a real estate development, it’s more than a smart city, it’s more than sustainability for us. It’s an opportunity to create an environment that’s built around people first and their stewardship of the land, and the way technology, education, arts, culture – all of that fits into a place where you can work and live.”

Union Point is also designed to encourage a new generation of digital natives. The first large-scale business set to open in the new smart city, engineering firm ProDrive, has been given the site for free in exchange for working with the local high school. It is hoped students will graduate with technical training in robotics and be able to apply for work at ProDrive following graduation.

World-changing?

Union Point is the metaphorical poster girl for smart cities and modern living. The first residents consistently rate it five stars on Facebook, championing its community spirit and facilities.

But only time will tell if this will be a world leading development, or merely a pleasant place to live with some testing going on next door.

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