The allure of digital currencies has hit Dubai, Seoul, Berkeley, and more. What looks like another offshoot of the Bitcoin craze could be an evolution of the municipal bond.
Coming soon to Slovenia: a brand new city that runs completely on cryptocurrency.
If all goes according to plan, BTC City will rise from the ashes of a former commercial shopping district in the country’s capital of Lubljana, offering wallet-less shoppers and wide-eyed tech enthusiasts a chance to engage in a more modern brand of conspicuous consumption. Every store in the 1.5 million-square-foot plot will stop accepting cash and start accepting crypto.
What’s less clear, though, is how exactly a city-specific cryptocurrency would work—and what cryptocurrencies can do for a city that cash can’t.
It’s a big deal for the small, former Yugoslav country. But it’s small potatoes compared to some other municipal efforts to wade into the world of digital financial systems. BTC City’s aim is to get people to use the dozens of digital currencies that already exist. Elsewhere, cities are vying to create new ones from scratch.
The list of cities experimenting with cryptocurrencies is diverse, and so are their goals. Dubai launched emCash in 2017 to flex its high-tech prowess as a “smart city.” Berkeley, California, is exploring a city-branded cryptocurrency effort to fund municipal bonds, making up for inadequate outside investment. Cities in Venezuela are bartering with Petros in a desperate—and questionable—attempt to raise funds amid the country’s economic crisis. And Seoul’s mayor has floated the idea of creating S-coins to fund social welfare programs for the sake of efficiency and advancing technology.
Why go crypto?
The first thing to understand is that there’s a major distinction between government-backed cryptocurrency and the more well-known financial instruments like Bitcoin or Ripple. Those virtual currencies are essentially “built by air, and backed by air,” said Sheila Warren, project head of blockchain and distributed ledger technologies at the World Economic Forum. In other words, their value is determined by the complicated coding it takes to mine them, in the case of Bitcoin, and how much people are willing to pay for them....