Whereabouts is this urban heaven you speak of?

It’s nowhere, but could be anywhere.

Has the Covid-induced social isolation gotten to you?

No, I’m serious. As it is being conceptualised, ‘Nextpolis’ (or whatever it will be called) could arguably be that “shining city on the hill”, a truly space-age urban space that fuses modernity with the most progressive environmental norms, with zero-carbon emission.

But you say it doesn’t exist anywhere.

Not yet, but it is in the works.

Care to tell me more?

Of course. To give you the back story, I have to take you to Hong Kong. You know that it is a Special Administrative Region of China and was being governed under a ‘one country, two systems’ principle, which protected its administrative autonomy, rule of law, independent judiciary, private property rights, free press, and the right to peaceful protest. All that has been virtually tossed out by the Chinese government’s recent implementation of a ‘national security law’ to crack down on the “pro-democracy” movement in Hong Kong in recent years.

I’m told that it virtually kills Hong Kong’s free spirit.

It does. And robs the city of everything that went into making it one of the world’s richest financial centres.

So, what about Hong Kong?

Many hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents are fearful for the fate of their city, and their own lives, when China exerts greter control over Hong Kong’s affairs. In response, a few countries around the world, including England and Australia, are offering Hong Kong citizens the right to immigrate and a path to citizenship.

Are immigrants welcome in a post-Brexit England?

Good point. But Hong Kong’s people are seen as enterpreneurial, hard-working, and financially savvy, and for that reason have enormous ‘social capital’; thus they are being welcomed.

So where does ‘Nextpolis’ come in?

A group of Hong Kong people have banded together as the ‘Victoria Harbour Group’ — named for the waterway channel in Hong Kong — and are giving voice to a larger dream than just immigrating to a new country. They are negotiating with foreign governments for permission to build an “international charter city” from the bottom up.

It could be the most futuristic city in the world, and would become an economic engine that would benefit the host country as well. About 50 per cent of the population of such a city, tentatively called ‘Nextpolis’, would be Hong Kong immigrants. The rest could be locals.

Negotiations have been under way with the Government of Ireland to build just such a ‘shining city on a hill’.

Sounds more like a ‘castle in the air’.

You’re sceptical, but the concept of an ‘international charter city’ isn’t new. It was propounded by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer, who persuaded two countries — Madagascar and Honduras — to experiment with such a developmental model. In India, the city of Lavasa, as it was planned, seemed an effort in that direction. All projects fell through, but there is even today, a Chartered Cities Institute that makes a persuasive case for the model. The hardest part is securing political buy-in from the host country for such an administrative enclave.

Does ‘Nextpolis’ stand a chance?

There are formidable odds, but at a time when the developed countries of the West are running out of options to fire up their economy, the entrepreneurial energy of Hong Kong people building a futuristic city from the bottom up and reviving the local economy is attractive. You have to hope that ‘Nextpolis’ (or whatever it is called) is born free.

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