The Free Cities Initiative is dedicated to understanding and advocating for free cities. A free city is a city with partial or complete autonomy. This blog believes that free cities can rapidly improve governance and spark economic growth in the developing world, as well as offer pockets of innovation to accelerate technological development in the developed world. While many organizations and blogs focus on cities, few consider legal autonomy, administrative organization, or the user experience of residents. Themes of this blog include trends of free cities, the autonomy of free cities, administration of cities, the history of free cities, and the user experience of city residents.
Consider the cities which have experienced the most growth in the post-war era. Of the top five, three are free cities, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai. Their success was predictable and is replicable. Rule of law, property rights, and economic freedom are necessary, and arguably sufficient conditions for economic development. Unfortunately, history shows it is difficult for countries to rapidly improve their institutions on a national level.
Free cities offer an alternative. By taking land with few special interests or residents, free cities have little impact on the political equilibrium. This allows more rapid institutional improvement, and therefore economic development, than would otherwise be possible. The institutional improvements would not only help the residents of the city, but show the rest of the country the benefits of rule of law, property rights, and economic freedom.
It is also important to note the governance structure of free cities. I use it as an umbrella term, including charter cities, proprietary cities, startup cities, and other governance structures that have yet to be considered. Currently I am relatively agnostic on the governance structure, each has advantages and disadvantages. The important unifying element, however, is the institutional autonomy.
Free cities can be built for the developing world or the developed world. The developing world has a rapidly urbanizing population and is poorly governed. A free city in the developing world would not need to build new institutions, merely import them from successful countries. The developed world is urbanized and well governed. However, there remain opportunities for free cities with regards to technological innovation. Amazon, for example, moved their drone program to Canada because the FAA was unable to develop an appropriate regulatory system in a timely manner. A free city in the developed world could truly embrace permissionless innovation.
There are two trends which point to the emergence of free cities. First, the creation of SEZs. While SEZs are not free cities, they are pockets of autonomy. The Economist writes that there are now more than 4,000 SEZs. Second, the emergence of private cities. Numerous multi-billion dollar private cities are being constructed. However, few have autonomy. Honduras passed a law to allow for the creation of ZEDEs (zonas de empleo y desarollo economico), a kind of free city. Should these trends continue they will likely culminate in free cities.
The purpose of this blog is to become the go to develop a narrative surrounding free cities and become the go to location for information on free cities. While the long term goal is to provide commentary on free cities, during the short term I will write a series of posts to better develop the idea, including, but not limited to, trends in free cities, barriers to the creation of free cities, and overview of the likely policies of free cities.
I am looking for additional contributors to this blog. If you are interested, please contact me at Mlutter at freecitiesinitiative.com.