Can You Invent a City?

The Urban Utopia of Time in Honduras

The Urban Utopia in Honduras

I’m not talking about Monopoly here , or any other board game. This is a real-time experiment Honduras is planning to undertake for the sake of economic development. Sounds like a fiction scenario, but it isn’t.

I recently came across this article, and it made me wonder about the possibilities of such an ambitious, unapologetic social experiment in creating an urban utopia:

The Honduran initiative was inspired by Paul Romer, a New York University economist who promoted what he calls “charter cities” at a TED talk in 2011. Rather than experimenting on existing cities, which could provoke resistance, Romer proposed building new urban areas on vacant land with room for several million residents who choose to live there.

The cities would remain Honduran but would enjoy a high degree of autonomy. They would be governed through charters made up of tried-and-tested political, economic and social regulations gleaned from around the world. Partner nations would provide guidance and oversight on troublesome issues like law enforcement and the courts.

For example, the Honduran judicial system is widely viewed as slow and corrupt, a factor that concerns foreign investors. To provide legal stability, the island nation of Mauritius has agreed to allow its Supreme Court to serve as the court of appeals for a future Honduran charter city.

Another proposal is to ban physical currency in the new cities and rely on debit cards and electronic payments to reduce crime and corruption. It sounds radical, but Nigeria has already placed limits on bank withdrawals and deposits to discourage cash transactions in Lagos, Abuja and other cities….

…The plan’s many skeptics warn that Honduras could become a laboratory animal for foreign social scientists. Angel Orellana, a former lawmaker and attorney general, calls the plan 21st-century colonialism. Hondurans, he said, would be giving up a piece of national territory that would become a virtual foreign protectorate.

I can see a novel set in this city. A thriller, or a period piece, or even science fiction. As writers, we sometimes create cities from our imagination. In this case, people with the right amount of money would be building a city from scratch, and decide the political, economical, social and perhaps even cultural rules by which it would run.

Is it possible to create an ideal urban utopia? Do you think this city would become a shining example of a technologically advanced metropolis or get mired in drugs, gambling, and prostitution? Can you really invent an actual city?