Minnesota was way ahead of Google in planning a smart city

A sketch of Athelstan Spilhaus' Experimental City plan.
A sketch of Athelstan Spilhaus' Experimental City plan by Russell Habermann of the Minnesota Sea Grant. Click to view full screen.
Courtesy of Sharon Moen

Around the world, tech giants are investing billions of dollars in building so-called "smart cities." Google's parent company Alphabet has plans to develop a 12-acre slice of Toronto while Microsoft founder Bill Gates bought 25,000 acres in the Arizona desert for a future city.

Fifty years ago there was a similar effort in Aitkin County in northern Minnesota. Plans for the city included technological innovations like self-driving cars, renewable power and advanced recycling plants.

Alas, this city never came to be. Many residents in the area didn't want it. The price tag was gargantuan: $10 billion in 1960s money. And its most prominent booster, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, lost his presidential bid against Richard Nixon.

A new documentary detailing the history of the Minnesota Experimental City opens Friday at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis. The Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul organized the screening event. MPR's Cathy Wurzer spoke with the director and producer Chad Freidrichs.

Click on the audio player above to hear their conversation.

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