(AP) — In the Nevada desert, a cryptocurrency magnate hopes to turn dreams of a futuristic “smart city” into reality. To do that, he’s asking the state to let companies like his form local governments on land they own, which would grant them power over everything from schools to law enforcement.
Jeffrey Berns, CEO of Nevada-based Blockchains LLC, envisions a city where people not only purchase goods and services with digital currency but also log their entire online footprint — financial statements, medical records and personal data — on blockchain. Blockchain is a digital ledger known mostly for recording cryptocurrency transactions but also has been adopted by some local governments for everything from documenting marriage licenses to facilitating elections.
The company wants to break ground by 2022 in rural Storey County, 12 miles (19 kilometers) east of Reno. It’s proposing to build 15,000 homes and 33 million square feet (3 million square meters) of commercial and industrial space within 75 years. Berns, whose idea is the basis for draft legislation that some lawmakers saw behind closed doors last week, said traditional government doesn’t offer enough flexibility to create a community where people can invent new uses for this technology.
“There’s got to be a place somewhere on this planet where people are willing to just start from scratch and say, ‘We’re not going to do things this way just because it’s the way we’ve done it,’” Berns said.
He wants Nevada to change its laws to allow “innovation zones,” where companies would have powers like those of a county government, including creating court systems, imposing taxes and building infrastructure while making land and water management decisions.
The prospect has been met with intrigue and skepticism from Nevada lawmakers, though the legislation has yet to be formally filed or discussed in public hearings. Most in the Democratic-controlled Legislature are eager to diversify Nevada’s tourism-dependent economy, but many fear backlash against business incentives as they struggle to fund health care and education.