From PC Techniques #34, October/November 1995





It'd be like playing SimCity at 1:1 scale, with real tracks.

My notion of the totally networked small town ("The Cableton Project," August/ September 1993) drew anguished cries from people who actually like cities. They begged me not to condemn them to life in the wilds where they could be eaten by bears. Hokay. Let's enlarge the scale a little bit, and now join me, if you will, for another meander along the edges of cyberspace.

In recent years, railroad companies have done a good business laying fiber optic along their right of ways. Fiber is hard to splice, and railroads like uninterrupted roadbed, so it's a good match. And that gave me the idea: Build a city right alongside the information superhighway. A linear city, if you will. Linearville.

Let's start there. Take a run of railroad right of way through the wide open spaces, and extend it one half mile to either side. Bury a 24-inch main full of fiber optic cables alongside the tracks. Dedicate the center track pair to high speed rail and freight, with a passenger station every 20 miles and occasional bypass sidings. Put down another track pair outside that, for rapid-transit style commuter travel, with a station every mile.

On either side of the tracks, build the city outward. The first layer, close beside the commuter tracks, is office buildings and highrise condos. The first major street beyond that is Main Street, set up like everyone dreams of Main Street, with apartments over hardware stores, ice cream parlors, and kimchee shops. Put tracks down in the middle of Main Street and run streetcars in both directions, stopping at every corner. Beyond Main Street lie 4-flats and 2-flats and finally single-family houses. At the far edges of Linearville will lie the Interstate highway, and beyond that, well, the bears.

Nobody lives more than a quarter mile from public transportation. But if you really want to, you can still hop the Interstate. The big plus is that there should be the fewest cars at the center of Linearville, where people density is the highest.

Back in the center of things, most of the length of the rail corridor would be roofed over for a pedestrian mall, allowing easy movement from one side of the city to its flipside. Cars would be barred from the central mall, but bicycles would be encouraged.

And every single office and dwelling in Linearville has its own dedicated T3 link, which is bandwidth enough to run VRML in one window and watch "Gilligan's Island" in another. Work through your link, or commute down the line to your office.

My sketches suggest Linearville would host an average of 3,000 people per linear mile, depending on how high the condos go along the rail corridor. Some stretches might be denser, to give the feel of Manhattan, or looser, for people who hate crowds but still like kimchee. Virtually every municipal service is easier to provide if everybody's strung out in one long line. And there are tens of thousands of rail lines through sparsely-settled regions of the country. It's a form of urban sprawl even I could learn to live with—or at least visit. (Though to be honest with you, I still prefer living out here with the bears.)

Dream, dream. Who could ever do something like this? Well, Bill Gates is now the world's richest man, at something in excess of twelve billion dollars. If he got together for lunch with Trammel Crow, Bechtel, the Union Pacific, and a few other of the nation's largest real estate developers, well, they could pull it off. When you get that rich that young, well, what the hell else are you gonna do for the rest of your life?

It'd be like playing SimCity at 1:1 scale, with real tracks.

G'wan, Bill, do it. Any nerd can make an operating system.