Charter City Basics

Brandon Fuller at the Charter City blog has an excellent introductory post – explaining clearly Paul Romer’s Charter City proposal:

Because we often tell the story of Hong Kong’s success, the model of a charter city that comes to mind for many people is one in which the government from a developed country administers the rules in a zone hosted and populated by people in a less-developed country. Partnerships between developed and less-developed countries are certainly feasible, but there are many other possibilities. For example, Shenzhen is the dual to Hong Kong and another illustration of the potential for charter cities.

To get a better sense for the flexibility of the concept, it helps to keep the essential ingredients of a charter city in mind. The creation of a charter city requires three basic elements and three national roles, all of which are based on the key dynamic of choice.

The creation of a charter city requires three basic elements that preserve the key dynamic of choice:

1. An uninhabited piece of city-sized land, provided voluntarily by a host government

  • Only countries that want charter cities will voluntarily set aside land to establish them.

2. A charter that specifies the rules that will govern the new city

  • The rules, such as those that foster long term investment and ensure the safety and security of residents, provide the framework on which the city can grow and prosper.
  • The charter is a foundational legal document, not an exhaustive city plan. The world can support a range of urban development strategies. Some cities might follow a planned strategy similar to that of Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris in the 19th century. Others might adopt minimal zoning and rely on the decentralized process of individual decisions celebrated by Jane Jacobs.

3. The freedom for would-be charter city residents to move in or out

  • Only the people who want to live and work under these rules will move to the newly chartered city.

There are three basic roles that countries can assume when establishing a charter city:

1. Land comes from a host country
2. People come from a source country
3. The guarantee that the charter will be respected comes from a guarantor country

Once you recognize that a single nation can play more than one role and that the source nations need not necessarily be party to the agreement setting up the charter city, you can imagine many potential charter city arrangements. Here are a few of the many possibilities.


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