HAWAIIAN CONSCIENCISM with Linda Tuhiwai Smith on May 2, 2013 at UH Manoa. She spoke on activism, feminism, culture, difference,...
After 666 comments, a friend of mine was kicked off Metafilter. That was ten years ago. He told me his old screennames over drinks a...
So I agree that architects and New Urbanist/Old Modernist urban planners are too entranced by the idea of finding the perfect form or form-based code that can lead to utopia. But color me with the Darkly Skeptical crayon that anti-trust laws and tax codes are the way to economic prosperity. The use of South and North Korea in any “see American-style capitalist democracy works” argument sends up real flags. Do economists just assign causation to all examples of correlation and do they never read political historians?
That’s what Paul Romer thinks. His idea of charter cities—autonomous, technocratic economic hubs* based on the model of Hong Kong—that would be founded in developing nations is revolutionary. But would it work?
Romer’s biggest idea is the importance of “rules.” Rules are, he, believes, the core DNA of any successful city—not sidewalks, not small blocks, not the width or layout of city streets. New ideas don’t need old buildings; they need strong patent and bankruptcy laws. Good rules explain why Nogales, Ariz., is roughly three times as rich as its sister city across the Mexican border. Instead of over-thinking urban form through rigid codes and top-down planning—the approach favored by modernists and New Urbanists alike—Romer and his partners refuse to plan at all, preferring to search for a minimum set of rules from which order can emerge.
In the absence of good rules, he points out, “when you teach a man to fish, you destroy an aquatic ecosystem.” Laws and institutions turn out to influence growth as much as innovation—and without them, the latter doesn’t happen. How else to explain the stark divergence of North and South Korea? Before the war, the North was the more technologically advanced of the two.
Now—and this is where Romer diverges from his peers—if rules are ideas, and ideas can freely be shared, then tax codes, anti-trust laws and independent judges should be shareable as well. And if cities are the places where new ideas take root and grow to scale, well, we should be building more Hong Kongs—and we should be able to build them anywhere. By transplanting rules from well-run nations to poorly governed ones, we can close the development gap between them, just as China has done. That, in a nutshell, is the rationale for charter cities.
* A year ago, Stern (NYU) lured the eminent economist back to academia with a $10 million gift for the Urbanization Project, a personal think tank devoted to creating new “charter” cities and massively expanding existing ones, thus planting the school’s flag in what dean Peter Henry believes will be a $20 trillion market in financing urbanization—and the next line of work for Stern graduates.