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An Introduction to Charter Cities

What is a Charter City?

 A charter city is a new city granted special jurisdiction to create a new governance system and enact policy reforms.

Charter cities can help improve governance in a limited geographic area by giving local officials authority to implement best legal and administrative practices and commercial regulations. This can help create a competitive business environment that attracts investment and accelerates economic growth in developing countries to help them achieve prosperity faster than ever before.


Governance is a key determinant of a country’s economic trajectory. Unfortunately, politics often prevents needed reforms from being implemented at the national level. Because charter cities cover limited geographic areas, their administrations can pursue deeper reforms than would otherwise be possible.


Shenzhen 1980
Average Yearly Income, 1980:
$137 USD
Shenzhen Now
Average Yearly Income, 2017:
$13,997 USD
Singapore 1960
Singapore GDP per Capita, 1960:
$428 USD
Singapore Now
Singapore GDP per Capita, 2018:
$64,582 USD
Hong Kong 1980
Hong Kong GDP per Capita 1980:
$5,700 USD
Hong Kong Now
Hong Kong GDP per Capita 2018:
$46,193 USD
Dubai 1980
UAE GDP 1980:
$75 billion USD
Dubai Now
UAE GDP 2017:
$689 billion USD
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Charter cities are not an entirely new idea. Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai demonstrated that by pursuing different developmental strategies, it’s possible for cities to leverage urbanization to grow from impoverished to world-class cities within two to three generations. Learning from these successes, CCI has developed a replicable model for charter cities that can be implemented in low-income countries, serving as the foundation for economic success.


How to Build a Charter City

Each charter city and their governance system would be unique, but the Charter Cities Institute recommends this as the overarching model.

Why Charter Cities?

We believe that charter cities have the potential to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty.

The world is projected to add 2.5 billion more urban residents by 2050. Much of this growth will be concentrated in the Global South, but many of these cities and governments struggle to meet the challenges posed by this rapid urbanization, lacking critical infrastructure, jobs, and effective governance for economic development. This leads to continued slum growth and poverty, poor living conditions, and limited job potential for city residents. Charter cities can help.

60% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by the end of 2030.

Research has shown governance and effective institutions are key factors for long-term economic development and major determinants of a country’s standard of living. Improving institutions is one of the most effective ways to lift people out of poverty.

Charter cities can improve governance by giving local officials authority to implement reforms, laying the foundation for economic success. This will help create a competitive business environment, attract investment, foster entrepreneurship and create more jobs, manage rapid urbanization, improve infrastructure and accelerate economic growth in developing countries, and therefore, improve the livelihoods of residents.

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