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Newsletter Links: November 2019

Charter Cities Institute Newsletter Links: November 2019


This blog post comes directly from the charter cities monthly newsletter, which you can sign up for here.

If you haven’t yet, don’t forget to register for our first Charter Cities Conference on March 17-18, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa. We’re still adding new speakers and finalizing the schedule, so tell us who you’d like to see there.

And if you’re in DC, Join us on December 11th for an evening of food, drinks, and holiday cheer as we celebrate the end of the year together and look ahead to 2020.

What I’m reading right now:
How to build new cities–particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa where populations are growing rapidly–is among the most pressing challenges the subcontinent will confront this century. From the article: ‘Retrofitting cities, where cities already exist, can be up to three times more expensive than planning for infrastructure in advance of settlement. Therefore, some leaders see the construction of whole new cities as the solution to overcome the pressures on existing ones.” We agree!

Loved this wide-ranging conversation on the Rocking our Priors podcast with Daron Acemoglu on his latest book, Balance of Power: State, Societies, and the Narrow Corridor to Liberty. Topics range from the delicate interplay between civic participation and state capacity/legitimacy, innovation in China, and the renewed focus on norms in economics.

A consideration of the ethics of using randomized control trials to study poverty alleviation.

The number of software engineers in Africa is rapidly increasing, but it remains to be seen if local employment opportunities for developers will do so at the same rate. The remote work implications here seem huge. We should expect to see more and more African devs telecommute to other continents for work.

A few weeks ago I tweeted that countries looking to encourage industry would be better served by prioritizing reliable power generation instead of attempting to layer special economic zones over poor governance. A new CGD report about the difficulties faced by Nigerian entrepreneurs makes a nearly identical point: “Fifty-seven percent of the surveyed firms rank electricity as a “major” or “severe” constraint to doing business, and a majority of firms report 30 or more power outages per month, with an average length of 3 hours.” Without basics like reliable power, special economic zones are useless.

Additionally, for cities and states to take full advantage of the potential of special economic zones (SEZs) to jumpstart development, it’s crucial that they don’t just try to copy what China did and hope for success, say researchers at the International Growth Centre. “The success of SEZs in China is appealing and policymakers in other developing countries may be tempted to implement copycats of the Asian model. Instead, SEZ policy is more likely to succeed if it takes a country-specific approach, aiming at reducing the most stringent barriers to growth and making sure that the benefits of zones outweigh their costs.”

Speaking of China, the government plans to set up an economic zone in space within the next few decades. “The country will seek to master the basic technology by 2030, build such a system by 2040, and establish the economic zone sometime around 2050.”

Currently working my way through Disney’s Khan Academy course, Imagineering in a Box. It’s useful as a crash course in how Disney’s imagineers–by way of Walt himself–think about world-building and creating a great experience for visitors.

South Sudan’s first Vice President, Taban Deng Gai, recently announced the government is working on a master plan for a new capital city. The plan alone will cost $10 billion USD. Hard to believe there aren’t much better uses for that amount of money in such a young and somewhat fraught state.

Neat account of Norway’s challenge with what is usually thought of as an emerging economy problem: domesticating the supply chain. For hundreds of years they’ve used timber in construction. Now companies there are working to transform it domestically.

I just bought Robert W. Rydell’s book World Fairs: The Century-of-Progress Expeditions. I haven’t started reading yet, but in their heyday World Fairs were global science fairs, providing a semiformal method of institutionalizing innovation. I’m excited to read it.


As always, thanks for reading–see you again in a few weeks for our November updates!

-Tamara Winter
Communications Lead, Charter Cities Institute

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