By Christian Britschgi | Reason
It might sound silly, but there’s half a good idea tucked away in Donald Trump’s proposal to create new “freedom cities” on federal lands.”Past generations of Americans pursued big dreams and daring projects that once seemed impossible. They pushed across an unsettled continent and built new cities in the wild frontier,” Trump said in a Friday campaign video.The former president and current presidential candidate wants to bring this pioneering magic back by holding design contests for 10 new cities to be constructed on a small portion of the federal government’s vast landholdings. The feds would vet submitted designs and then grant charters to the winners.”These freedom cities will reopen the frontier, reignite the American imagination, and give hundreds of thousands of young people and other people, all hardworking families, a shot at home ownership and the American dream,” declared Trump. He also announced his intentions to jumpstart a flying car industry, revive American manufacturing, and bring beauty and safety back to America’s existing cities.It’s basically the grandiose MAGA version of the liberal “abundance agenda,” which calls for America to build-baby-build until we have enough comfortably affordable housing to shelter one billion Americans.
Some of the proposals Trump outlined in his video are more ridiculous than others. As described, his vision of federally vetted and charted “freedom cities” certainly isn’t a particularly libertarian—or practical—idea.Like other products of the marketplace, cities tend to emerge naturally where they make sense. They require some matchmaking between geographic advantage, available resources, pre-existing industry or infrastructure, and more to really get going.America already has a lot of cities and towns with jobs and housing. Anyone trying to build a new city from scratch needs to ask themselves why people would move there and what would they do once they arrive.Trying to bootstrap a whole new city from scratch would almost certainly require a mess of incentives, subsidies, and industrial policy that would be anathema to anything deserving the name “freedom city.” One need only look at Saudi Arabia’s “The Line” project to see how badly off-track new cities can get when their government sponsors treat them like a Lego set.