Not sure if it’s a trend, but I’ve recently noticed what seems to be a shift in terminology from “charter cities” to “proprietary cities.” I’m also not sure whether these terms are supposed to be synonymous. Nevertheless, it seems that a charter city or a proprietary city is an attempt at an end run around territorially defined constituted authority, intended to produce proof of concept for, if not anarchy, at least polyarchy. The proponents of such cities by either name seem to be pro-capitalist libertarians ranging from ultra-minarchist to anarchist.
This raises the question of whether creation of ungoverned local communities ex nihilo is a tactic deserving the consideration of anticapitalist (i.e. antilibertarian) antistatists. For ecological reasons, I have deep reservations about breaking ground to create alternative communities. Reorganizing existing communities along ideological lines seems like a type of hostile takeover, unless the agenda for change originates in a broad (if not unanimous) consensus of the residents of a community. In the case of charter cities, one of the most frequently-proposed sites of late has been Honduras, which has suffered(?) the convenient disaster of a coup d’état. It’s quite reminiscent of the 9/11 (1973) coup in Chile that created a power vacuum conveniently made available to be filled by free market principles. A leftist attempt to create a non-statist city should reflect leftist values, which means less opportunism and a need to work within existing normative constraints. These constraints, like it or not, include the institution of property, but there may be a way to turn this to our advantage.
I propose referring to the left wing alternative to the proprietary city as a nonproprietary city.
I suggest we work within capitalism’s rules when establishing the territorial boundaries of our nonproprietary city. This means the nonproprietary city will be built on privately owned land acquired in the real estate market, which is paradoxical, but consistent at least with the idea of “Building the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old”.
I imagine a crowdsourced (and of course crowdfunded) effort. Participants in this swarm are understood to be playing a unicoalitional game. The object of the game is to acquire
- as much land as possible, and do it in a way that is
- as geographically concentrated as possible, and
- as contiguous as possible
Think of it this way: Each swarm participant is looking at the real estate market as a whole (eventually converging on one geographic area, per nonproprietary city, anyway). Each available property has surveyed boundaries and therefore has geometric properties such as area and perimeter, and distance from other parcels. At any given time (starting with the first land acquisition), the swarm has an already-acquired portfolio of land holdings that can be mapped. For each available additional parcel, we can calculate certain properties of the portfolio assuming the addition of that parcel. These parameters would include:
- total land area of the portfolio
- radius of the smallest circle that circumscribes the entire portfolio
- total perimeter of the parcels, minus whatever portion of each is the boundary between two adjacent parcels
In terms of minimax (or maxhi schema) approaches to optimization problems, we’re looking to maximize the first of these parameters and minimize the other two. In a lot of ways this has the look and feel of a Dan Gilbert style urban land grab, and may or may not run afoul of the law. One huge difference is the nonproprietary nature of a nonproprietary cities project. A defining feature of a nonproprietary city, as I see it—as I am defining it (as of this writing a Google search of the quoted phrase yields no results)—is radical transparency.
For starters, a nonproprietary city building swarm is not a secretive cabal. Its existence is to be a matter of record, and so is its agenda. More to the point, it is to treat all data as nonproprietary, along the lines of a “T corporation.” This is important.
At some point, the development of the nonproprietary city will proceed from establishment of geographic extent to development. Since breaking new ground can be expected at the very least to promote sprawl, and is generally not the most responsible type of land use, this will probably involve more renovations than erections, with any of the latter hopefully occurring on sites of dismantled buildings beyond repair. In keeping with the principle of extreme transparency, the blueprints will be released into the public domain in either case.
One approach to urban planning might be the “pubwan” model that I described many years ago. It is based on a mixture of proximity modeling, preference ranking and Parecon-style assets/needs assessment.
Since the nonproprietary cities movement is working against both statism and capitalism, independence is needed not only from the services of local government, but also those of the private sector, at least when it comes to infrastructure. I propose a decentralized grid of local utilities, with each building, perhaps each household, being both a producer and consumer of such services as electric power, sewage treatment, solid waste handling, perhaps combustible gas from sewage and/or solid waste. Electrical and internet hookups could be house-to-house, resulting in a peer-to-peer network. Sewage treatment might take the form of septic tanks, only with outflow into the larger grid instead of dispersion into the ground as in low-density or rural areas. Another alternative might be a rotating biological contactor. Implementations of this technology are as small as filters for home aquariums and as large as installations in sewage treatment plants, so it seems plausible that the output of a household or small shop should be within the technology’s range of scalability. I’ve heard claims that water treatment systems based on living organisms can process all the way from raw sewage to safe drinking water, but I’m a little disappointed to see that the top search result on that topic is indeed a proprietary system.
Anti-statists sometimes refer to something we call polycentric law, or pluralism in creation and perhaps enforcement of laws. Nonproprietary cities might draw on polycentric infrastructure, as well as polycentric law. To the extent that polycentric utilities are metered, it would be at least as much for system tuning purposes as for billing purposes. Meter readings (probably automated using some form of “smart meters”) would be dumped directly into the public domain, in keeping with radical transparency.
Going beyond infrastructure into production and distribution of goods and services, I would suggest planning the local economy using the methodology of angel economics.
Aside from all this, it remains the case that the nominally private property comprising a nonproprietary city is still under the jurisdiction of one or more cities, townships, or counties. Taxes to those entities will necessarily be a drain on the local economy. This introduces another paradox in the site selection process in that there may be reason to prefer real estate in jurisdictions whose level of city services and corresponding level of local taxation is low. We may have to act like right wingers to live like left wingers. Such is life.