Charter Cities and Crypto

Five and a half years ago my co-founder and I started planning a new city development in Zambia. After a year and a half, we started marketing the new town development and got busy doing the actual work of development. Four years in, we’ve done quite a lot, but there’s still a lot for us to execute before the town starts to actually look and feel like a town. Part of what makes what we do interesting is that it’s an exercise in the sort of planning typically done by municipalities and central governments – we have to think about schools, utilities, home affordability, access to healthcare, sanitation, jobs etc.

Starting from the ground-up, with resources we’ve built through aggressive pre-sales and conservative financial planning – we typically have to approach everything from the basis of first principles. Further, given that the city is already self-funded, and with no external investors; we treat our development company like a lean start-up. The first priority is to get the minimum viable product ready, iterate and improve from there. It’s easy to be idealistic when the purse is unlimited, the opposite is true when you have to think of the best and highest use of every dollar spent.

It’s easy to be idealistic when the purse is unlimited, the opposite is true when you have to think of the best and highest use of every dollar spent.

That being said, part of what makes private city development exciting is the possibilities of what could be. What would a network of these private cities look like? Africa’s population will rise from ~1.3 billion people today, to ~5 billion people by 2100; over half of this population will live in cities (>2.5 billion people). Existing cities will have to expand significantly, and new cities will have to be built to accommodate this massive rise in population. Given the scale of existing infrastructure deficits across Africa (and Asia), we believe these new cities, and the expansions of existing ones, will be financed and managed by private organisations such as ours. Private governance will likely be the norm across much of the developing world. It will create jobs, provide trusted institutions, affordable housing, and economic platforms for business creation and growth. Beyond this though, and to my point about what the future could look like… I’ve recently been thinking about how private cities could use blockchain (and crypto) to enhance the quality of life of their residents. Could blockchain and crypto be the software to charter cities’ hardware? Are charter cities the means through which crypto currencies could achieve broader everyday use or mainstream adoption?

Could blockchain and crypto be the software to charter cities’ hardware? Are charter cities the means through which crypto currencies could achieve broader everyday use or mainstream adoption?

For background, charter cities are city sized special economic zones with privately managed governance systems; in essence private municipalities that set their own civil laws, judicial processes and tax policy. Discussions on charter cities typically focus on government, which of course is the foundation issue relating to their success. Building a charter city is no easy feat and establishing the governance frameworks is foundational—and difficult. This essay explores the idea of charter cities issuing their own crypto currencies as a means of enhancing the utility of their resident’s and developing their economies.

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