Whether built for testing, special training, or a military ruse, fake cities have a unique place in military and technological history. The infamous Potemkin Village may be one of the first and most notable examples, but numerous faux cities made for diversions or security have popped up throughout the history of warfare, from a fake Paris constructed at the end of WWI to fool German bombers to suburban camouflage applied atop U.S. factories during WWII to protect them from bombing raids. While technological advances have made the idea of diversionary developments a thing of the past, the idea of creating massive spaces for training and practice (whether for soldiers facing overseas deployment or tech companies wanting to give driverless cars a test run), means there's still a need for simulated cities. Here's a tour of some of the more intriguing and unorthodox sites in the United States.Read More
7 Fake U.S. Cities and Towns With Very Real Purposes
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
A 32-acre site in Ann Arbor, this simulated small town was created to help test driverless cars and the vehicle technology of the future. With blocks of fake buildings and streets, it’s a Truman Show-esque suburban replica, as well as a bid to keep the center of automobile innovation squarely set within Michigan as opposed to Silicon Valley.
An in-the-works, 26-square-mile simulated small town, roughly the size of Bennington, Vermont, the Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE) will spring forth from the New Mexico desert as a functional lab for product innovation. Pegasus Global Holdings plans to invest billions in creating the fake town, expecting demand for such a “living laboratory” to test security applications, drone technology and other concepts will justify the massive outlay in construction costs. Perhaps even more intriguing, CITE will have a real world antecedent. The planned layout is a model of the existing town of Rock Hill, South Carolina.
3. Hogan’s Alley
Stafford, VA 22556
The FBI will tell you it’s the “baddest town in the country.” If you count the actors playing criminals, than perhaps it does deserve that reputation. Originally constructed in 1987, the faux town serves as a living classroom for future federal agents. Built by Hollywood set designers, Hogan’s Alley boasts everything from a barbershop and bank to a pool hall and restaurant (which actually serves as a classroom). A replica of Chicago's Biograph Theater, where agents famously gunned down John Dillinger, is down the road from the simulated town square.
4. Fort Irwin
Fort Irwin, CA 92310
An isolated site in the Mojave Desert, this base has offered a testing and training ground for troops for decades, far away from civilization. Roughly the size of Rhode Island, the National Training center provides simulated battlefield training for departing troops, who spend three weeks on site before heading overseas. The center contains more than a dozen fake cities, including faux Afghani and Iraqi villages, and, due to both the restricted airspace and uncluttered electromagnetic spectrum, freedom to operate without any interference. Fort Irwin will also soon become the Department of Defense’s largest solar installation with the completion of a massive $2 billion project, expected to finish by 2020. It's not the first example of mock cities being used for combat training by the military; a fake Vietnam village was constructed on the Marine base at Quantico in the '60s.
5. Mars Desert Research Station
Hanksville, UT 84734
Slightly stretching the idea of a town, this site nonetheless focuses on a very futuristic concept of community. The next best thing to the Red Planet appears to be the red soil of Utah. This “analog” of the Martian environment, a small campus run by the Mars Society, features a set of simulated habitats and a telescope. By running a series of test missions at this remote site (and a sister site in Canada near the Arctic circle), the organization hopes to learn lessons that will aid humanity when it eventually lands on Mars.
6. Nevada Test Site (“Survival Town”)
Built by the Army in the ‘50s to help test the effects of large-scale nuclear blasts on homes and other structures, this series of fake towns sprung up across the desert in Yucca Flats, positioned at varying distances from the blast site and populated with eerie mannequins. Constructed as part of Operation Teacup, these buildings withstood the blasts of 14 atomic bombs during 1955, The curious can take a tour of these sites, but need to register months in advance to gain clearance.
7. James J. Rowley Training Center
Laurel, MD 20708
The official training center for the U.S. Secret Service, this 500-acre site provides a series of obstacles courses and faux buildings for training missions, including the forward fuselage of an airplane and a replica of Marine One. The campus also may by the future site of a proposed $8 million replica White House Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy requested from Congress earlier this year.