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Our research serves to establish the economic, legal and moral arguments for charter cities. Topics include new cities, decentralized governance, industrial policy and special economic zones, cultural economics, urban geography and economics.

Governance Handbook

Charter cities are new cities with new rules. The Governance Handbook is the first comprehensive guide that lays out what these rules should be, and how they should be administered.

All Research

Resilient Cities

Building Resilient Cities: The Role of Charter Cities in Promoting Resilient Urban Development

This paper explores how cities, particularly in the Global South, can tackle the challenges of climate change and rapid urbanization to become resilient centers of sustainable development. Focusing on the concept of charter cities—newly established urban areas with innovative governance—the paper discusses their potential to strategically manage urban growth, develop sustainable infrastructure, and implement adaptive governance practices. Despite challenges, charter cities offer a pathway to building resilient urban centers that drive economic prosperity and innovation in the face of climate change.

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Making Bad Urban Laws Better: Can the Urban Physician Replace the Urban Politician in Africa?

In response to evolving global priorities and local challenges, our latest research paper, titled “Making Bad Urban Laws Better: Can the Urban Physician Replace the Urban Politician in Africa?” delves into the dynamic landscape of urban policy reform in Africa. Drawing from the Biden administration’s strategic shift towards urbanization and the comprehensive analyses of international organizations, we explore the emergence of the “urban physician” – a technocratic figure tasked with enacting policy changes to enhance urban governance. However, our analysis goes beyond surface-level assessments of “bad laws,” urging a deeper examination of their origins, impacts, and vested interests. We argue that alongside the urban physician, skilled “urban politicians” are essential for navigating complex political landscapes, building coalitions, and driving meaningful reform. Through a series of case studies and discussions, we shed light on the symbiotic relationship between these two actors and advocate for a holistic approach to urban policy reform in Africa.

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15-Minute Cities and American Inequality: The Relationship Between Walkability and Social Inclusivity

Over the past few years, the 15-minute city has emerged as a contentious urban planning paradigm. The concept, which proposes organizing cities into clusters of dense neighborhoods where all daily needs can be reach within a 15-minute walk or bike ride, is criticized as a segregationist and impractical approach to urbanism. Its detractors fear that it will worsen social inequality and reduce economic benefits. In this paper, we challenge these criticisms. We argue that 15-minute cities are an effective urban policy to improve social equality and spur economic development. We conceptually argue that 15-minute cities embody consensus policies among urban planner, and therefore, they should not be treated skeptically. We also discuss how 15-minute cities are beneficial to low-income residents. To illustrate our arguments, we qualitatively compare New York City and Washington, DC’s impoverished neighborhoods. We show that the relatively more walkable neighborhoods of NYC are better for the poor than DC’s relatively less walkable neighborhoods.

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Let Them Eat Cake (and surf, and swim, and play golf): Is King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), Saudi Arabia a Liberal Oasis?

Recent research delved into the economic challenges facing King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) in Saudi Arabia, revealing a nuanced perspective. While the outlook for KAEC’s economy appears pessimistic, there’s a glimmer of social optimism regarding the appeal of social liberalism, particularly among the youth. This emerging trend has garnered attention from Western media and scholars. KAEC, alongside other planned cities like NEOM, is positioned as a response to population growth and urbanization while aiming to stimulate economic growth. However, official Saudi government sources lack substantial mention of social liberalism, prompting questions about its authenticity versus being a marketing ploy. Is this dual message reflective of Saudi trying to push the social liberalism signal overseas while maintaining a conservative rhetoric at home? Is there a social cherry on the slightly stale economic cake?

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Economic Development in India

The Return of the Washington Consensus? William Easterly, Good Economic Policy, and Economic Growth in India

This paper engages with a specific effort by Easterly (2019) to solve the liberalization–economic growth paradox. Focusing on India’s liberalization in 1991, it questions Easterly’s analysis on several fronts. Firstly, it argues that the growth paradox diminishes when more rigorous empirical methods are applied. Secondly, it contends that Easterly’s metrics fail to capture India’s reform efforts adequately. Thirdly, it suggests that while Easterly posits a delayed effect of good policy, the actual delay lies in realizing the benefits of such policies due to various factors like the need for complementary policies and the time it takes for firm-level impacts to manifest at the macro level. Lastly, it critiques Easterly’s linkage of rapid growth in the 1990s solely to better economic policy, highlighting the need to consider sustained growth and the interplay between growth and institutions for a comprehensive understanding of India’s economic trajectory since 1980.

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Walking the Un-Walkable: Findings Report

Urban infrastructure in major cities is inadequate to support pedestrian mobility. In Zambia, for example, the majority of citizens rely on walking for their daily travel, but unfortunately, sidewalks are often inaccessible or non-existent, and urban expansion makes travel time longer. To help address this issue, CCI, in collaboration with key stakeholders, conducted a participatory research project called ‘Walking the Un-walkable’. The project aimed to map and address walkability in Lusaka, identifying the challenges pedestrians face while walking and highlighting opportunities for improvement. The findings and recommendations were mapped using methods including participatory policy-making, transect walking/mapping, co-design, and validation workshops. This report outlines the findings identified in the walks and the verification workshop conducted with key stakeholders. With cities like Lusaka continuing to grow rapidly, it is crucial to understand how infrastructure and urban form can effectively meet the needs of urban residents.

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When Good Policy Meets Bad Politics Thumbnail

When Good Policy Meets Bad Politics: Property Rights, Land Amalgamation, and Urbanization in India

Indian cities are facing challenges due to their low-rise structures and sprawling slums that are projected to increase with the growth of urban populations in the future. To cope with this trend and take advantage of agglomeration externalities, India needs to adopt a more upward, pyramid-like approach with increased density. Although strengthening property rights has been suggested as a solution, India’s fragmented land ownership system makes this option difficult.

Previously, the Indian government used eminent domain to acquire and amalgamate land for industrial or infrastructural use, but this led to significant political opposition in the 2000s. As a result, the 2013 Land Acquisition Act was passed, which narrowed the circumstances under which land could be acquired, increased compensation payments, and extended those payments to non-owners who relied on the land for their livelihoods. While this approach has ensured political acquiescence among rural and slum dwellers, it has created a problem for private businesses that require land for property or industrial development, causing a significant time and cost burden.

This political reality, while necessary for a democratic India, may not be conducive to good economics and may lead to dysfunctional urbanization.

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Soaked Cities: Climactic Moisture and Urbanization Patterns in India From 1971-2011

In the coming decades, rapid urbanization and climate change will bring about significant transformations, especially in developing countries. It is essential to understand how their interaction will compound growing urban pressures. More specifically, how does climate change affect urbanization trends and city growth? Eva Klaus’ working paper assesses the situation in India, employing a 40-year panel dataset from 1971 – 2011 covering 485 districts across the country to examine how changes in climatic moisture affect urbanization, urban population growth, and rural population growth at the district level. Second, this study employs another 40-year panel dataset covering 2,222 urban centers in India to assess the impact of changes in climatic moisture on city population growth.

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Walking the Un-Walkable: First Publication

“Walking the Un-Walkable” delves into the act of walking in Lusaka, examining both the obstacles and possibilities for enhancement. The project seeks to produce policy briefs and research that are grounded in evidence. Our goal is to provide guidance for a transformative approach to urban planning, policies, and infrastructure investments that prioritize a more accessible and pedestrian-friendly built environment. “Walking the Un-Walkable” revolves around four designated walks, designed to replicate the walking experience along specific routes and thereby identify hurdles and deficiencies in pedestrian pathways. This publication documents the outcomes of the initial walk and mapping exercise, incorporating insights from local partners, community members, and participating students. Future publications will be released to document subsequent phases of the project.

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A Zambian Road to Nowhere

A Zambian Road to Nowhere: The History of Big (Road) Infrastructure and the 2011-2022 Zambian Road-Building Boom

For decades, policymakers, donor organizations, and academics have engaged in a debate over economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa, proposing different policy responses over time. In recent years, there has been a renewed emphasis on the significance of infrastructure, especially due to the exorbitant transportation costs in the region. The question remains: can improved road infrastructure help sub-Saharan Africa surmount the geographic distance barriers that impede economic growth? This paper seeks to delve into the potential long-term economic effects of Zambia’s road construction boom between 2011 and 2022.

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Web3-enabled Harbergeorgism: A Policy Mechanism for Charter Cities

Charter cities, and special jurisdictions more broadly, can boost economic growth, prompt institutional reform, and allow for diverse policy experimentation. However, how to conceptualize the optimal economic model to guide the development of a charter city or special jurisdiction remains unclear. Web3-enabled Harbergeorgism is one such model that is well-suited to the charter city context.

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Paul Romer and the Suez and Panama Canals

This paper contributes to the growing literature around charter cities and new city developments and makes a case for the salience of the charter city model from two surprising case studies – the Suez and Panama Canals.

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charter cities in africa

Working Paper Series on Charter Cities in Africa

This working paper series on charter cities in Africa is a joint effort of the Charter Cities Institute and the African Centre for the Study of the United States at the University of the Witwatersrand to highlight the scholarship of African scholars interested in how charter cities will shape the future of the continent across various themes and disciplines.

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research agenda

CCI’s Research Agenda

CCI’s new research agenda outlines the 5 research topics most important to the charter cities movement and helps guide our research on urban governance, economic growth, and poverty alleviation.

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barefoot planning

Barefoot Planning

Barefoot planning proposes to dynamically organize private development and public goods without a static master plan by employing barefoot planners, a new class of community-level planning practitioners.

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optimizing cities

Optimizing Cities for Crises

Curiously, some cities have, over time, become better at preparing for crises, while others have not. This paper explores how to optimize cities for crises, as well as growth, learning, and other seismic changes.

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