During our discussion of city developments over the last few class periods we determined that in order to evaluate a certain development approach we needed to know what goal we were optimizing for. However, in my mind, we neglected a more basic discussion of the theory describing why cities exist and how they have historically been formed. Instead, our approach was mostly along the lines of “Lots of people are moving to cities, so we need more cities. Resources are limited, so we need sustainable cities. Go.”
We skipped two fundamental questions: a) What makes a city a city? and b) What’s your city’s competitive advantage?
From an investor and entrepreneur standpoint both those questions need to be answered to predict the success of a venture. Part a) involves some less tangible characteristics such as sense of community and togetherness that derives from investments in education, health, government, fairness and family. I believe businesses and corporations can have some influence over these factors but it is more a role for government. Instead, I’d like to focus on b) What’s the city’s competitive advantage? Doing so can help entrepreneurs identify business opportunities and investors assess the risk of an investment.
I’m not an anthropology major, but my theory goes a bit like this: Cities represent clusters of people that settle and organize around some kind of common resource. For example, some cities organize around some geographic characteristics such as rivers, mountains, bays, and valleys. Other cities organize around a natural resource such as oil, coal, lumber or people. And yet other cities form around a knowledge resource such as textiles, furniture, universities or bureaucracy. In drafting a development plan, the first stages have to reflect how the new city will use its resources as its competitive advantage.
I think KAEC and PMH illustrate two different types of resources nicely. For example, KAEC’s major resource around which to organize was its port. Therefore any plan that neglected the port would not be successful. However, the problem with a “port and laborers” only approach is manifest in the name of the city: King Abdullah Economic City. The high profile of the project causes a tension that distracts the developers from the city’s core competitive advantage. Hence, the planners made large initial investments in golf courses and residential developments. PMH, on the other hand, leveraged its primary resources of location (reclaimed land in HCM city) by investing in residences, office buildings and retail locations.
If the development approach is matched to the existing resources, I believe the initial stages of building a new city are met. However, in order to make that effort permanent and sustainable, the question “What makes a city a city?” becomes relevant again. As a recent Planet Money episode on the oil fields of North Dakota illustrated, without the intangibles of culture and a sense of community any of these new city developments is bound to be unsustainable. 
 Turning a boom town into a real town; http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/01/08/168871212/episode-428-turning-a-boomtown-into-a-real-town