Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
Urban planning meets the iron fist of Europe's last dictatorship.
We know that when it comes to city-building, autocracy has its advantages. That's why Patri "Democracy is not the answer" Friedman was so stoked to build Paul Romer's "Charter City" in the Honduran jungle; it's also why Saudi Arabia thinks it will be possible to construct a six-line Metro system in four years.
So it's no surprise that China, seeking to build a European industrial park to provide a manufacturing base for exporters, has settled on Belarus, Europe's last iron-fist dictatorship.
Aliaksandr Kudrytski, writing in Bloomberg, reports that China will invest over $5 billion to create an industrial city for 155,000 on the outskirts of Minsk, connected to the airport by high-speed rail:
The hub will put Chinese exporters within 170 miles of EU members Poland and Lithuania and give them tax-free entry into Russia and Kazakhstan, which share a customs union. It will also let them draw from a workforce that’s 99.6 percent literate and makes $560 a month on average, half the Polish wage.
The first phase of construction will be completed by 2020, and the city will be finished by 2030.
It's not a perfect solution, since the E.U. has a system of sanctions in place against businesses associated with the government of president-for-life Alexander Lukashenko, on account of his poor human rights record. It's not clear if companies in Shenzhen-on-the-Svislach (unofficial moniker) will be subject to those regulations.
But then China's efforts to establish a smaller such city, in Burgas, Bulgaria, were stalled by a political transition, Kudrytski reports. No such concern in Belarus, where Lukashenko has been President since 1994.
Top image: Reuters/Gleb Garanich.
HT: Marginal Revolution.