Floating Cities, No Longer Science Fiction, Begin to Take Shape
It is an idea at once audacious and simplistic, a seeming impossibility that is now technologically within reach: cities floating in international waters — independent, self-sustaining nation-states at sea.
Long the stuff of science fiction, so-called “seasteading” has in recent years matured from pure fantasy into something approaching reality, and there are now companies, academics, architects and even a government working together on a prototype by 2020.
And yet in 2017, with sea levels rising because of climate change and established political orders around the world teetering under the strains of populism, seasteading can seem not just practical, but downright appealing.
“If you could have a floating city, it would essentially be a start-up country,” said Joe Quirk, president of the Seasteading Institute. “We can create a huge diversity of governments for a huge diversity of people.”
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But over the years, the core idea behind seasteading — that a floating city in international waters might give people a chance to redesign society and government — steadily attracted more adherents. In 2011, Mr. Quirk, an author, was at Burning Man when he first heard about seasteading. He was intrigued by the idea and spent the next year learning about the concept.
For Mr. Quirk, Burning Man, where innovators gather, was not just his introduction to seasteading. It was a model for the kind of society that seasteading might enable. “Anyone who goes to Burning Man multiple times become fascinated by the way that rules don’t observe their usual parameters,” he said.
Seasteading is more than a fanciful hobby to Mr. Quirk and others involved in the effort. It is, in their minds, an opportunity to rewrite the rules that govern society. “Governments just don’t get better,” Mr. Quirk said. “They’re stuck in previous centuries. That’s because land incentivizes a violent monopoly to control it.”
Even if the Seasteading Institute is able to start a handful of sustainable structures, there’s no guarantee that a utopian community will flourish. People fight about much more than land, of course, and pirates have emerged as a menace in certain regions. And though maritime law suggests that seasteading may have a sound legal basis, it is impossible to know how real governments might respond to new neighbors floating offshore.
Mr. Quirk and his collaborators created a new company, Blue Frontiers, which will build and operate the floating islands in French Polynesia. The goal is to build about a dozen structures by 2020, including homes, hotels, offices and restaurants, at a cost of about $60 million. To fund the construction, the team is working on an initial coin offering. If all goes as planned, the structures will feature living roofs, use local wood, bamboo and coconut fiber, and recycled metal and plastic.
“I want to see floating cities by 2050, thousands of them hopefully, each of them offering different ways of governance,” Mr. Quirk said. “The more people moving among them, the more choices we’ll have and the more likely it is we can have peace prosperity and innovation.”
November 14, 2017
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