But now, Mr. Romer, an expert on economic growth, is out of his own project, tripped up by the sort of opaque decision making that his plan was supposed to change.
An internal contradiction in the theory is playing out: To set up a new city with clear new rules, you must first deal with governments that are trapped in the old ones.
The idea, Mr. Sánchez explained in a telephone interview, is to adopt ideas that have worked in other countries. A team from the government went to South Korea and Singapore. In the nation of Georgia, they found a model in Lazika, an instant city that the government has begun building that is inspired by the charter-city concept.
Mr. Strong has his own version of Mr. Romer’s relationship to the project. “When Sánchez finally saw Romer’s video talk, he saw that this was a high-profile source of external validation that could help push their ideas through,” he wrote in an e-mail. Mr. Romer’s project was “a marketing catalyst.”
Mr. Romer is now looking elsewhere.
“If it were easy to undertake social reform, it would have happened,” he said. “You just have to keep trying.”