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Y Combinator’s Plan to Build a New City

Paul Romer, the Director of the Marron Institute and an NYU Professor, was cited by Margaret Rhodes, a reporter for Wired, in an article titled "Y Combinator’s Plan to Build a New City? Not Actually Crazy".

The article focuses on Y Combinator's recent announcement: it is launching a “New Cities” initiative, which "will study freshly minted cities, and how to plan, design, and build them from scratch." The company intends to base its cities off Shenzhen, a planned city that started as a fishing village, was designated a tech R&D center in the 1980s, and is now one of the wealthiest cities in China. 

Shenzhen’s not without its problems. The megacity is home to colossal manufacturing plants—like Foxconn, which cranks out Apple products—where millions of workers receive low wages and face poor working conditions. But as a model, Shenzhen highlights two contrasting schools of thought about designing cities from the ground up.

“One is very modest in the sense that you say, you can’t change anything about the political and legal framework or social norms, but we can get some of the most important elements of design right,” says Paul Romer, founding director of the Urbanization Project at NYU’s Stern Business School. That’s the conservative approach. “The other extreme,” Romer says, “is you build a city and put it in a new zone, and try out different legal and political structures, and even try and create new social norms.” That latter approach is what the Chinese government did with Shenzhen.

That Shenzhen works is a bit of an anomaly. Romer says an approach that lies somewhere between the two schools of thought is ideal. Impose too much structure onto a new city, and you risk stifling the way people behave naturally. For example: self-driving cars may become more common, but it would be short-sighted to design a city’s streets for them alone, which could prevent new innovations or modes of transportation from coming into the picture.

To read the full article, click here

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