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Building a new city in Colombia

This month’s issue of Monocle Magazine has a feature on a new masterplanned community to the north of Cartagena called Serena del Mar. Currently under construction, the entire 971 hectare community is slated to be finished by 2030. When complete the developers believe it will house upwards of 200,000 people — effectively an entirely new city.

It will also be entirely self-governing. There will be no mayor or city council. Revenue to operate the community will be collected through a mandatory monthly fee, though low-income residents will be exempt from paying it. As I understand it, large projects in Colombia have historically been mired in corruption issues, and so this is probably a response to that.

But the approach has naturally caused a bunch of skepticism. Does this bifurcate the city between public and private? Is this a vote of no confidence on Cartagena’s current governance structures? Building a city from scratch is also exceptionally difficult (there’s a quote in Monocle from Toronto’s own Shawn Micallef on this). Cities usually take time to evolve and settle in.

I don’t know enough (or anything, really) about Colombia, Cartagena, and this development project to comment specifically. And so I won’t. But these are the questions that are being asked of contemporary masterplans. There’s a reason most (or all) of the tech companies involved in large scale masterplans have banned the word “campus” from their lexicons.

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