Trump's 'freedom cities' initiative bright but risky
President Trump surprised many by delivering a four-minute speech as his newly launched presidential campaign gets going, calling for bright new "freedom cities" to be built on federal land, by private contractors. He called for beautiful cities, just as he called for elegant federal buildings, and the scrapping of ugly ones. He called for Jetsons-type vertical, or drone-type transport, which is in development now, to bridge the divide between country and city. He also sought child cash credits to encourage Americans to have babies, to ensure that the population will grow.
It was a splendid concept, standing in stark contrast to Joe Biden's green new deal and Klaus Schwab's great reset -- which is all about the micromanaging of American life down to its gas stoves, the destruction of America's fossil fuel industry in the name of "going green," the shortages, the breakdown of the grid, and the soaring fuel prices on all those expensive greenie mandates, the fattening of political cronies on failed Solyndra-type boondoggles, the zero population growth, the mileage taxes, the less-is-more ethos, the small-is-beautiful philosophy, the cramped apartments, the nasty public transport filled with bums and the smell of urine, the third-world children toiling in the lithium mines, and the eating of bugs.
That whole Biden vision stinks to ordinary voters and Trump's alternative clearly recognizes that.
According to Politico:
Trump’s plan, shared in advance with POLITICO, calls for holding a contest to design and create up to ten new “Freedom Cities,” built from the ground up on federal land. It proposes an investment in the development of vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles; the creation of “hives of industry” sparked by cutting off imports from China; and a population surge sparked by “baby bonuses” to encourage would-be-parents to get on with procreation. It is all, his team says, part of a larger nationwide beautification campaign meant to inspire forward-looking visions of America’s future.
“Past generations of Americans pursued big dreams and daring projects that once seemed absolutely impossible. They pushed across an unsettled continent and built new cities in the wild frontier. They transformed American life with the interstate highway system—magnificent it was. And they launched a vast network of satellites into orbit all around the earth,” Trump said in his video.
“But today, our country has lost its boldness. Under my leadership, we will get it back in a very big way. If you look at just three years ago, what we were doing was unthinkable, how good it was, how great it was for our country. Our objective will be a quantum leap in the American standard of living,” Trump said.
It was classic Trump, going for something bold and wildly different, and Politico compared it to his proposal to Denmark to buy Greenland, which most of us frankly, liked. Trump draws his energy from the greatness of American history and that's a big reason why he's so insanely popular.
All the same, what he was proposing was fraught with risks, given that everything he proposed pretty well has been tried before by central planners elsewhere, with, at best, mixed results, and that includes a lot of flaming failures.
Brasilia, Magnitogorsk, Yamoussoukro, Nowa Huta are all famous for the dreadful awfulness of their centrally planned aesthetics.
Trump, of course, isn't proposing to build ugly cities like those, all premised on the wonders of socialism. Nor is he proposing the kind of crap that went on with U.K.'s often-ugly "New Towns" where in the unfortunate town of Stevenage, one creepy socialist official told protesting locals as he bulldozed ahead: "It's no good your jeering, it's going to be done."
It's fair to say that the intentions were good most of the buildings of these places but they didn't get the results they wanted. They were centrally planned with the best of intentions yet with the addition of city chaos or consumer needs, or too much cement, or the socialist worker aesthetic, they turned out ugly.
Other centrally planned cities constructed out of nothing, such as Versailles, and Putrajaya, turned out quite beautiful in a regal sort of way, but they tend to be sterile places without much city dynamics.
Some smaller centrally planned places, such as Coto de Caza, California, are quite beautiful and liveable, too -- and pretty much walled off literally to ensure that, ensuring static growth. Cities must be dynamic.
Here's a list of all the centrally planned cities here on Wikipedia
I would argue that China, with all its empty building and cities, is brimming with central planning. The city of Tijuana, with its endless cement, its undrinkable water, its sewage fouling San Diego's beaches, and its planned communities, is pretty centrally planned, too, I've talked to the mayor of that city about it. There are older beautiful centrally planned cities, such as Washington, D.C. But as the burning of Notre Dame demonstrated, it's unlikely that the work force contains sufficient numbers of artisans with the skills to duplicate the kind of ornate work seen in the cities' buildings.
Yes, central planning can do great things. Trump would know all about Robert Moses, who centrally planned much of New York -- to very mixed results, including the destruction of organic and integrated neighborhoods to put highways and transit lines in (this was what Pete Buttigieg was talking about when he brought up racist highways, it was in the book "The Power Broker," by Robert Caro, which is read in colleges), and his role in the 1963 destruction of Penn Station for a vile brutalist cement concoction of unspeakable ugliness that is now loaded with bums and only now undergoing some sort of renovation that doesn't match what was lost.
Glen Matsumoto, writing on LinkedIn, observed:
Infrastructure investment is a unique investment class requiring consideration of many things including the public's need to be provided essential services, anticipation of future community requirements, delivering adequate returns to investors, but also occasionally requiring consideration of intangible values such as the cultural heritage of society.
Which is why central planning so often falls short. It goes back to Friedrich Hayek's explanation of why socialism constantly fails -- it's because central planners simply can't plan for all the little things that make a place work, including in a great city, in the same way individual decisionmakers can and do. Once again, cities are dynamic. Which is why central planning, including in city construction, is so hard to get right.
There is a place for top-down decisionmaking -- Medellin, Colombia, after all, did itself proud by revamping its water system so that every water faucet there can dispense safe drinking water -- no Montezuma's revenge in that city. Bogota, Colombia did itself proud by getting around its very difficult geography with a mountain zone of solid rock dividing the city, making the creation of a subway impossible, by simply dedicating a few existing roads solely to bus transit, creating a virtual transit system which works just as well as a subway, except with nicer scenery. Trump cited the interstate highway system and the trans-Pacific rail line, and yes, those were marvelous feats, done with central planning by the state and by the private sector.
But there's a bigger place for the little guy to make the decisions in how a city emerges as a great city.
Is Trump's aesthetic taste exactly what every region wants? Would a grand classical style, which is what he's aiming at, work in states as diverse as Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington state, and southern California? They really do have different architectural 'feels' in those places. Is Trump talking about his own taste in buildings, such as the brassy Trump Tower in New York (which by the way, came about with the destruction of the exquisite Bonwit Teller facade of the building, which enraged a lot of New Yorkers)? Is the private sector always successful in creating planned communities? A look at the history of California City in California suggests otherwise.
Is the creation of cities an incubator for more blue voters? We all know what the U.S. political map looks like. Is Trump's drone transport proposal (which the private sector is already doing) enough to keep the "freedom cities" from going blue? It's unknown but that problem is out there.
Can he get a better name for it than "Agenda47" which sounds like something Klaus Schwab would cook up?
It seems that the better way to create beautiful new cities is to go the full libertarian - flat tax, low regulation, freedoms galore. Yes, open more federal land to development, but allow the development of new cities to come at a more granular level. When people feel prosperous and happy and confident and having a sense of beloning, they do create beautiful things. That's why Gov. Ron DeSantos's granular rather than grand acts, seem more likely to get the results Trump would like to see in the country in the creation of beautiful cities. Trump seems a bit top down in his call for beautiful cities while DeSantis is bottom up, and very organic in his approach. DeSantis is going after school boards and wokester investing and wokester education, and even looters, seeking to create a public that has a unified sense of belonging to the U.S. rather than the Utopian dream of socialism, along with an appreciation for America and its heritage. Trump's vision is grand, but DeSantis's is brick by brick and it might form a more solid foundation for the creation of beautiful cities based on the creation of informed and cognizant people.
Too bad the two of them can't get together -- at least as of now -- they uniquely complement one another in their vision.
The other thing is, there is a lot of granularity that Trump needs to finish up on -- the border wall, the need to hose out deep state, the cleanup of the elections, the rebuilding of our defense, all of which are unglamorous hard slogs. It's no fun to talk about these things the way talking about a new America with big new beautiful cities is, but these things have to be done.
Trump should get credit for lightening the mood and drawing Americans to envision new heights of success with his cities proposal. He's a visionary. We love visionaries. We also know that Trump can get huge numbers of things done. Will it work? I see a lot of potential 'caution' signs knowing all that can go wrong. But it's nice to hear a creative mind at work reaching for the stars, same as Elon Musk does, instead of just the usual political pudknockery.
Go get 'em, President Trump.
Image: Screen shot from DonaldTrump video, via Rumble.