What We Do
The Free Cities Foundation works with self-governing territories that uphold individual rights and freedoms.
Free Cities Foundation
Our Foundation works with self-governing territories that uphold individual rights and freedoms.
Free Cities are self-governing territories that uphold individual rights and freedoms.
Free Cities usually have a special legal status within their host state, which grants them autonomy to make decisions that affect their local community. This autonomy may allow Free Cities to make their own laws, introduce regulations, raise public funds, and deliver public services independently.
Free Cities differ from other kinds of autonomous territories in that they emphasize upholding individual rights and freedoms. Unlike many other special jurisdictions common in the world today – such as Free Trade Zones – Free Cities are focused on providing more freedom and a better life to full residential communities, rather than simply offering advantages to businesses.
Free Cities may adopt more traditional or more novel governance models. For example, one such model includes governance by a private operating company, where the rights of citizens are enshrined in a Citizen Contract. These cities seek to create the right incentives for a free and prosperous society by introducing a profit motive, clear legal protections for citizens, and independent dispute resolution into their governance. This is known as the Free Private City model.
The idea of Free Cities is not new by any means. Self-governing territories upholding individual rights and freedoms have existed in many forms throughout history. Today, we are seeing a renaissance of the concept after somewhat of a downturn during the age of nation-states over the last two or three centuries. Modern Free Cities are the heirs and continuation of a long-standing tradition. They also bring modern-day technological and institutional innovation fit for the 21st century.
There are many potential paths to establishing a Free City. Free Cities can emerge from historically distinct regions within nation-states or special administrative regions where autonomy has been granted more recently. Examples of Free Cities that have been able to achieve autonomy through a more recent government decree include Próspera and Ciudad Morazán in Honduras.
Free Cities may also start as liberty-focused intentional communities: territories within an existing nation-state that lack formal legal autonomy but are populated by people united by a common ethos. The shared values of an intentional community may allow its residents to achieve a higher degree of freedom than exists in surrounding areas and set it on the path to achieving more formal autonomy in the future.
Free Cities can also be established on the high seas. While all known land is currently under the formal jurisdiction of existing governments, some see a unique opportunity to establish self-governing communities on water. Floating communities that sit outside the jurisdiction of existing governments are known as seasteads.
Free Cities may also emerge from Network States. Network States are highly organized online communities that build online governance services with the vision to eventually define a physical territory and gain diplomatic recognition from traditional states. Citizens of Network States may seek to form a Free City, or an alliance of non-contiguous Free Cities, with autonomy within existing nation-states.
The Free Cities Foundation supports and builds on the broader new cities movement. In the past decade, there has been an incredible amount of attention and demand for cities where living standards could be increased and new modes of living together could be tried out. This space is incredibly diverse: from cities planned by billionaires and celebrities to the proliferation of special economic zones to New Urbanist developments addressing housing shortages or African Charter Cities creating growth and prosperity in the developing world, people all over the world are building our future, even though we might not yet know exactly what it will look like.
Free Private Cities
Free Private Cities are characterized by a distinctive system of governance. In these cities, a private company (a City Operator) is responsible for the city’s administration and the provision of security and the rule of law. All other services are provided by private third parties and/or residents themselves.
A central feature of this system is the Citizen Contract, in which the rights and obligations of both the resident and the City Operator are explicitly laid out. Besides the rules of living together specified in the Contract, the Operator has no right to further intervene in any areas of the resident’s life without their consent. Disputes over the contents of the Contract or the conduct of one of the parties are adjudicated by a third-party arbitration court that is fully independent from the Operator.
Free Private Cities can be established either as autonomous zones within Host Countries or as fully independent entities. Whatever the setting, it always involves a legal agreement with the Host Country that forms the legal underpinning of the city’s status.
The Free Private City is one of the modern Free City models that exemplify the creative renaissance of Free Cities in today’s age.
Special Administrative Regions
Special Administrative Regions (SARs) are areas within nation-states that operate under different legal and regulatory regimes. They are autonomous and have their own independent government or governance system while remaining under the sovereignty of the host state in terms of international relations.
The first SARs were started in China, where Hong Kong and Macau maintained their own governments under the so-called “one country two systems” arrangement. Recently, however, a new generation of SARs has started emerging. In Honduras, Zones for Employment and Economic Development, including Próspera and Ciudad Morazán, are arguably better described as Special Administrative Regions than Special Economic Zones.
Not all SARs necessarily have to be Free Cities. However, the recently emerging SARs have been part of the Free Cities movement. The original SARs could likewise be seen as Free Cities, being self-governing territories characterized by hugely expanded levels of individual rights and freedoms compared to mainland China.
The startup cities space is incredibly broad, encompassing not just Free Cities, Charter Cities, and similar projects, but virtually all projects to build cities or parts of cities from scratch.
Sometimes, startup cities can be more narrowly defined as cities built by startups rather than governments or even as traditional cities that are simply tailoring their policies to attract startups.
As newly developed urban projects, all modern Free Cities are inherently startup cities by definition. However, many startup cities are not Free Cities at all and instead pursue different goals in their development.
Seasteading is the concept of building settlements on the sea, outside of the jurisdictions of existing nation-states. Since all the land on Earth has been parceled out, the high seas are a new frontier where true independence could be attained and new, more voluntary models of governance could be tried.
Usually, the idea of seasteading involves individual modules that could be connected to form floating, city-sized platforms, but from which citizens could detach and join a different one if they were not happy with the governance of one particular seastead. This would allow one to move with one’s property and even real estate – something impossible in land-based settlements.
Seasteads are well aligned with Free Cities. Their goal is to uphold and maximize individual rights and freedoms by providing a freer alternative to existing states. By the virtue of being located in government-unowned international waters, they will also become self-governing territories.
Special Economic Zones
Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are areas within nation-states where different rules and regulations apply in some areas. These zones are usually tailored toward business, manufacturing, or enabling easy imports and exports. Since the mid-20th century, they have become a popular choice for governments to boost regional economic growth without the need for country-wide changes or controversial reforms.
While SEZs usually feature lower business taxes, exemptions from tariffs and other fees, and a simplified pro-business regulatory environment, they typically do not have regulatory autonomy. This means that while they are free to manage their own internal affairs to some extent, they cannot choose the regulations that will apply within them and are governed by pre-set legislation established by the national government.
There are now perhaps over six thousand SEZs worldwide, depending on the exact definition. Though they are self-governing to some extent and are in some respects freer than the rest of their nation-state, they either have little to no population, or the concessions within them are limited to businesses, with the residents enjoying only the secondary benefits of economic growth. While SEZs are in one way a precursor to some modern-day Free Cities, they cannot really be described as Free Cities themselves.
A Charter City is a special zone within a country that is granted separate legislative powers via a charter that establishes the city and its status. This allows the city to become a partially autonomous territory that is able to set its own targeted policies on a local level, which is often not feasible to do in a nationwide setting.
Charter Cities are commonplace in some developed countries, such as the United States. They usually do not feature far-reaching innovation in governance and are often governed by a traditional municipal government, sometimes with a handful of special characteristics and more flexible policies.
The Charter Cities movement was revived by Paul Romer in the 2000s, who advocated for establishing cities with local autonomy across the world. The movement has seen great successes since, with Charter Cities now being negotiated and established across the world.
Charter Cities can be Free Cities if the content of their Charter is oriented toward expanding and protecting the freedoms of its citizens. This might not always be the case, as there are places and situations where freedom is not always priority number one and other values take precedence.
Although a relatively new concept, Network States have quickly become a household term with the publishing of Balaji Srinivasan’s book in 2022. The idea involves the creation of online-first communities that start offering governance services to their members of a higher standard than traditional states. When the community has then evolved its institutions to a high enough level, it may have enough of a stature and position in international relations to be able to acquire its own territory from existing states. Over time, this community would then move from the online world to the physical world.
Since the popularization of the term and the pathway to “start a new country” it lays out, many communities have sprung up attempting to grow and become Network States. Some of these have a defined goal to expand and protect individual rights and freedoms. If these communities ever achieve a self-governing status in the physical world, they will become Free Cities. On the other hand, there are also many fledgling Network States that have different priorities than upholding individual rights and freedoms. When it comes to this category, even if they end up successful, such projects cannot call themselves Free Cities.
Find out more about how Network State relate to Free Cities here.
“Smart city” is a term that has exploded in the last decade. It signifies a city that utilizes new technologies, the internet, big data, and/or artificial intelligence to improve the quality of administration or the daily lives of its citizens.
There is great appeal in using innovative technologies to make new city projects more attractive. That is why, especially when it comes to projects on greenfield sites, new cities are often planned as smart cities in one way or another.
Smart cities can take the form of Free Cities, existing as a self-governing territories upholding individual rights and freedoms and using technology in that pursuit. However, a smart city can also be a regular city that is neither self-governing nor focused on upholding rights and freedoms. Lastly, it needs to be said that some new technologies can be easily used to make the urban experience distinctly more unfree rather than the reverse.
Find Your New Home
in a Free City
Free Cities are not just a theoretical vision. Entrepreneurs all over the globe are creating pockets of freedom and political innovation in a world of systems that have not lived up to our expectations.
The Free Communities Directory is a resource that will help you find up-and-coming places and projects aligned with the vision and principles of Free Cities.
News & Blog
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The Free Cities community and movement has both an online and a real-world presence and extends all around the world. The easiest way to become part of it is to join our Telegram community group full of interesting news and discussions related to the Free Cities space.
Don’t miss our flagship event – an annual conference hosted by the Free Cities Foundation. Titled Liberty in Our Lifetime, the conference is a unique opportunity for the global Free Cities community to come together to present, network, and learn about the latest developments in the world of innovative governance structures that create more freedom in today’s and tomorrow’s world.