Investigating Charter City Ideologies and Geographical Imaginaries: The Case of Próspera and Singapore

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Iqbal, Aaron
Charter City , Neoliberalism , Singapore , Próspera , Neocolonialism
In 2011, economist Paul Romer gave a Ted Talk titled, “Why the World Needs Charter Cities.” During his lecture, Romer described an idealized form of urban governance. The essence of Romer’s talk was to reshape the connection between cities and economic development through emphasizing an unregulated competition between cities as a mode of spurring economic growth. Romer’s talk echoes a sentiment from like-minded individuals and institutions that believe cities should be organized around a libertarian ideology where institutions and landowners, rather than public governance structures, have the greatest amount of power in urban development. My thesis investigates the ideology that underlies the charter city idea through a study of Próspera, a charter city located in Honduras, and the libertarian ideology used to both promote the city and develop its constitution and institutions. This study also includes investigating the perceived historical continuity between Próspera and cities such as Singapore and Hong Kong that are seen as embodying the charter city model. Charter city advocates draw on idealized versions of such cities’ rapid economic development as both inspiration for, and justification of, their approach to urban governance. In contrast, in this thesis I highlight that charter cities alleged link with such sites do not reflect the reality and context upon which their economic growth occurred. Through focusing on ZEDEs (Zones for Employment and Economic Development), the enabling legislation passed in Honduras that allowed for Próspera’s establishment, I argue that the institutions which make up Próspera are more reflective of the colonial administration of Singapore and its contemporary use of state power to boost economic growth than of an idealized libertarian governing
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