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City Journal Article

+ Brandon Fuller

Our article, Cities from Scratch, is now available on the City Journal website. The piece suggests that the startup dynamic has played an important historical role in giving people access to better rules and new rights. It goes on to argue that new cities can do the same today, giving people in relatively poor areas more choices about where to live and work. Here's an excerpt:

In 1091, Count Roger of Sicily raided the island of Malta, then under the control of the Fatimid caliphate, and secured the release of Christian captives there. Rather than observing the customs of conquest and forcibly resettling the prisoners, he let them choose between returning to their homes (many were Greek) and taking up residence in Sicily. There, he promised, they would be free to work their land as tenants, unchained from the burdens typical of medieval enserfment, such as servile dues and obligatory labor in the lord’s demesne.Roger’s effort to attract, rather than enserf, new residents was unusually progressive for the time, but historian Richard Bartlett claims that it became common as western Europe expanded during the High Middle Ages. By offering people rights and opportunities, nobles could quickly attract voluntary migrants to new settlements, raising the productivity of their land and earning commensurately higher rents. Migrants who chose to move to the new settlements could improve their status, gaining improved legal rights, hereditary tenure as rent payers, and temporary exemptions from rents and military duty while they cleared land and built houses.

The Autumn 2010 edition of City Journal celebrates the publication’s 20th anniversary and contains many interesting articles. They include Edward Glaeser on the history of entrepreneurship in New York, Mario Polèse on the benefits of urban agglomeration, and many more.

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