Science & Nature

Nov 1, 2016

FLOATING CITIES: A NEW WORLD

The Seasteading Institute (TSI), created in 2008 by Google software engineer Patri Friedman (the grandson of economist Milton Friedman), Wayne Gramlich, president of Homebrew Robotics Club of Silicon Valley, and supported by Peter Thiel, a billionaire venture capitalist and a PayPal co-founder, are developing a floating city that would serve as a permanent, politically autonomous settlement.

Seasteading is the concept of creating permanent dwellings at sea, called seasteads, outside a territory claimed by any governments, based on modified cruising vessels, refitted oil platforms, decommissioned anti-aircraft platforms, or custom-built floating islands. The aim is to facilitate the establishment of autonomous mobile communities maximizing entrepreneurial freedom, thus creating the first nations not to aggress against any people, as well as to welcome anyone to the "Next New World" – the first autonomous state where building new society types would be tested.

The development of this project is still sensitive from the government's point of view, as it interferes with the eventual loss of the monopoly of the traditional country governments, whose systems are sometimes referred to as obsolete and have no capacity to meet the challenges, creativity and innovation of the 21st century.

The group's philosophy can be described in a few imperatives: "Enrich the poor. Cure the Sick. Feed the Hungry. Clean the atmosphere. Restore the oceans. Live in balance with Nature. Power the world sustainably. Stop fighting." For Randolph Hencken, TSI's chief executive, «All land is claimed, the ocean is our last place on Earth».

The global team composed by marine biologists, nautical engineers, aquaculture farmers, maritime attorneys, investors, environmentalists, and representatives of other professions, plan to build seasteads to host profitable aquaculture farms, floating healthcare, medical research islands, and sustainable energy powerhouses. The three main categories for their research are engineering, business, and law & policy.

Over a thousand people have donated to the Institute, and hundreds have volunteered their expertise. Besides the financial support by Thiel, who invested some $1.7 million in the project, the Institute hopes to raise money from a handful of investors, future residents, and interested parties in the maritime industry. The starting cost of construction will be about $30 million; each additional platform would be some $15 million. Back in 2013, the organisation raised over $27,000 by means of a crowdfunding campaign supported by 291 funders, and this money was immediately invested into "The Floating City Project", by the Norwegian design firm DeltaSync.

Nevertheless, the project was called utopian, and strongly criticised by many from Silicon Valley who considered these ambitions to be too wild, financially extravagant, and elitist to generate real results, not to mention the complexity of related legal and tax issues. In Silicon Valley business environment, it would be much easier to buy a piece of land or even an island than to realize this project.

The team is, however, a new inspiration - it is a chain of 130 islands, located in French Polynesia, with an air link to Los Angeles in just eight hours. According with the research carried out by experts involved in the project, Polynesia has an underwater fiber optic cable capable of harboring a new community of residents and workers.

Plus, rising sea levels threaten French Polynesia's very existence, which makes a proposal to build new land appealing to the local government. In this sense, these visionaries plan to associate themselves with a "host nation", estimating it would take $225 million to build, and $8 million to operate annually. If everything goes as planned, the group may start a seastead as early as 2017, which would be completed by 2020.

The new city would consist of two or three platforms that each cover half a football field, and house 30 people. Should the pilot program prove successful, more platforms would be added. The islands would also provide space and resources for construction, meanwhile developing a memorandum of understanding, a document that would cement the government's intent to work with the Seasteading Institute, and drafting the legislation that would permit the seastead's development.

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