Who needs a government?
What’s so great about the right to vote for your local, state or national leaders?
Why not allow a corporation decide how much to spend on your schools, police, roads and hospitals?
If these questions sound outlandish, you haven’t heard of the newest trend – private cities – where a chief operating officer and a corporate gang replace democracy and representative government with trickle down domination.
Sarah Moser, associate professor of geography at McGill University, warns us:
A private city is kind of like a giant mall.
If management doesn’t like you or the way you dress, they can theoretically expel you and you don’t have recourse to challenge this, as it is private property.
They don’t have mayors. They don’t have elected city councils. They have CEOs. So it’s a completely corporate model. There are no elected officials to appeal to and if you are seen as a troublemaker, you could potentially be kicked out.
Private cities are big business, no longer some tiny experiment.
More than 15 new private cities and dozens more new urban areas are being developed on public-private partnerships throughout the world today.
Forest City, a huge $100 billion new city, is being built in Malaysia on reclaimed land, just up the coast from Danga Bay by China’s Country Garden.
“It’s China’s largest property developer creating a private gated city from scratch in the ocean. They’ve had to engage in one of the largest land reclamation projects in the world to create a new city for 700,000 residents,” Moser said.
I think what’s particularly intriguing about this new city is that it’s geared toward Chinese nationals, not toward Malaysians …. There are no Malaysian police or military allowed into the project. So who’s policing the place? It’s private security guards.
In Springfield, Australia, a private city was built from scratch on 7,000 acres of bush land by that country’s 39th richest man. It now has 40,000 residents.
Morocco is building 20 new cities. Tanzania is constructing nine.
NEOM, a new city for one million residents in Saudi Arabia, includes plans for robot maids, cloud-seeding technology, and an artificial moon. In 2017, they hired three of the world’s largest consultancy firms — McKinsey & Co, Boston Consulting, and Oliver Wyman — to advise them.
Moser said another example is King Abdullah Economic City, a mega-project in Saudi Arabia:
It’s completely private, and it’s run by a company that’s actually listed on the Saudi Stock Exchange. So technically, I could buy stock in King Abdullah Economic City and have some say over the city that residents would not have …
In the 1960s, these (cities) were state projects for the greater good.
In contrast, I would say the majority of the cities today are fueled by corporations, and these corporations see unprecedented opportunities to make money …. IBM, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, they’re all in the new city game now.
“There are many ambiguities in private cities about the rights of residents, the legal protections they have, and the legal recourse they have if something goes wrong,” Moser explained.
CEOs are fired not for failing the residents, but for failing the shareholders. When a city is private, the priority of management is profit, not the needs of citizens.
Moser said the United Nations predicts 68% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050:
They’re claiming that … the housing shortages can be addressed through the construction of new cities, and this is preferable to the endless squatter settlements and slums that we’re seeing popping up everywhere.
But in reality, a lot of these new cities are being targeted at the elites — people who globally own five to 10 properties already.
For example, in Kenya the middle class earns about $20 U.S. a day, and units in these new cities that are being created in Kenya often cost $150,000 U.S. It would take five lifetimes to actually pay off that condo.
Songdo is a 130,000-person new city, owned and operated by Gale International and POSCO in South Korea. This smart city was developed in part by technology giant Cisco and includes a “living lab” for Cisco technologies.
“Everything in Songdo is wired. There are sensors on everything, and CCTV cameras everywhere. This is a way of increasing efficiency in the city, reducing crime … There are a lot of critics saying that this is too high a cost to pay, and we should be concerned about privacy,” Moser said.
She explained that new smart cities around the globe are “kind of like the Sidewalk Labs project on steroids.” Sidewalk Labs is a subsidiary of Google’s owner, Alphabet Inc. It plans to create a smart city, Quayside, on Toronto’s waterfront.
“People are suspicious, rightfully so, of a technology company’s role and what they’re standing to gain and what we stand to lose. And also wondering, well, is Toronto so broken that we can’t use existing mechanisms for urban development?” Moser said.
Financial reporter Wade Shepard explained that “in some ways, private cities are viewed as a ‘win-win’ type of shortcut … governments can get their new developments built for them via private capital, rather than tax dollars, and still take a cut of the earnings, while private firms can profit at each stage of the urbanization process,”
Shepherd said the private city movement allows drastic social changes:
Private cities, kind of like special economic zones, often have their own sets of rules which often run perpendicular to the laws of the nations they are geographically located within.
They are … a swath of land purchased by a private company, that can be run as that company sees fit.
They are wild cards where the conventions of the broader country don’t apply, where new labor regulations, tax codes, financial laws, business and property registration systems, and education models can be implemented and tested.