AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Earlier this month, former President Donald Trump outlined a bold vision to create opportunity and restore a sense of national pride through the construction of up to ten new “Freedom Cities” – part of a broader plan to bring about what Trump terms a “quantum leap” in the American standard of living. While Trump’s proposal is undoubtedly audacious, it also exists in the context of a large body of historical evidence that suggests such construction projects can rejuvenate a society and revitalize a culture.
“Past generations of Americans pursued big dreams and daring projects that once seemed absolutely impossible,” Trump said in a video release on the plan. “Under my leadership, we will get it back in a very big way.”
“We’ll actually build new cities in our country again,” Trump continued. “These Freedom Cities will reopen the frontier, reignite American imagination, and give hundreds of thousands of young people and other people, all hardworking families, a new shot at home ownership and in fact, the American Dream.”
Specifically, Trump proposed a “national contest to charter up to 10 new cities on a very small portion of federal land and award these charters to the best ideas and proposals for development.” These Freedom Cities would provide opportunities for economic success and home ownership for hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Trump also announced a major initiative to lower the cost of home construction, a push to revolutionize personal transportation through the emerging industry of “vertical takeoff and landing” vehicles, and “baby bonuses” for couples to help launch a new baby boom.
Some critics have set out to dismiss the plan as unrealistic – in doing so channeling the same negative energy as those who derided the idea of constructing an interstate highway system or the Apollo program decades ago.
These critics also miss the wealth of historic evidence that suggests building projects – and city construction in particular – can be just the shot of adrenaline a population needs to enter a new era of prosperity.
Three prominent examples are Tel Aviv in Israel, Gdynia in Poland, and Canberra in Australia. In all of these cases, the city-building endeavor boosted a national spirit of entrepreneurship, harmony, and basic human dignity similar to that which Trump hopes to restore to America.
Many Americans are likely feeling anxious and pessimistic about the outlook for their country today, much as the Poles were in 1918 when they embarked on their vision to build a new port city from scratch. More than a century of abuse by leading European powers had left the Polish people morally devastated, economically weakened, and politically divided.
But the vision for the new city of Gdynia, a home for 250,000 families and Poland’s gateway to the sea, inspired a new sense of hope for building a free and modern country. Twice the Poles had to restart construction, first from the devastation of World War Two and then from the socialist waste brought on by the Soviet command economy.
Now, Gdynia stands as a “window to the world” and shining symbol of the Polish dream of becoming a maritime nation. It has contributed significantly to restoring a sense of national pride for the Polish people.
Americans who might be skeptical of Trump’s Freedom Cities plan should also consider the example of Israel, a small nation under constant threat from its neighbors, some of whom wish to erase the Jewish state from the map completely.
Despite these precarious circumstances, Israelis constructed a magnificent new city in Tel Aviv, even in the midst of existential wars.
As one former mayor of the city said, Tel Aviv symbolizes the ability of Jews to combine a rational approach to the building of a society and their faith in God. As the first “Hebrew city,” it provided an economic and spiritual boost for the Jewish state. Today, that beautiful city on the Mediterranean is one of the major cultural, technological, business, culinary, and architectural hubs of the world.
In Australia, the debates that led to the construction of the new capital of Canberra were a high point in Australian history, drawing together the causes of political reform, faith, and destiny.
A new spirit of national unity also sprung from the construction of the city. As urban historian Karl Fischer described, the Australian effort “engendered in every citizen a feeling of aesthetic appreciation and thereby of civic pride.”
Another example, Brazil’s capital of Brasilia, was built in the country’s sparsely populated interior in a period of less than 4 years starting in 1956. Today the city is home to 4.2 million people.
These are just four recent examples that people today can see for themselves.
Over the centuries, nations that faced crises or a dissolution of unity discovered profound wisdom in embarking on ambitious building projects. This is something that is often missed by modern analysts, who only view cities for their utilitarian appeal in terms of packing more people closely together.
When he first set eyes on America, Pilgrim leader John Winthrop called it a “city upon a hill” – a phrase which itself is drawn from scripture, but which various figures in American history have used to describe the promise and hope of America. President Ronald Reagan famously invoked this phrase in his farewell address.
Now, former President Trump has promised to pick up this mantle and carry it forward if he is elected to a second term, further cementing his legacy as one of the great defenders of American exceptionalism and champions of American greatness.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.
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