With the global population projected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050, seasteading—building cities on water—has emerged as one way to support a growing world.
Though the concept of ocean communities has been around since the ’80s, San Francisco–based think tank The Seasteading Institute, is leading the charge to bring it to life. After studying this next frontier of urban development for the last five years, the nonprofit recently achieved its first major victory: An agreement with French Polynesia to create a floating city prototype off its shoreline. If all goes according to plan, the first aquatic assemblage of homes, hotels, offices, and restaurants will arrive in 2020.
DeltaSync, the Dutch sustainable engineering firm that will be designing the pilot city, will build on top of floating concrete platforms that can be rearranged as needed.
The case for floating cities.
The point of floating cities is twofold. On one hand, starting new, self-governing civilizations is a way to wipe the slate clean.
“If you could have a floating city, it would essentially be a startup country,” Seasteading Institute president Joe Quirk tells the New York Times, citing the free-form structure of Burning Man as inspiration. “I want to see floating cities by 2050, thousands of them hopefully, each of them offering different ways of governance.”
In addition to its social benefit, Quirk sees aquatic architecture as a way to stay safe from extreme storms that will likely continue to become more severe. The “floating eco-sanctuaries” he refers to in his book, will contain buildings that extend a few stories into the air but hundreds of feet under the water.
“Ocean living requires us to flip our land-based assumptions. On coastal cities, land space is a radically limiting factor. On the ocean, horizontal space is abundant, and gravity is your friend. Upside-down floating skyscrapers—seascrapers—could one day be more stable and safer in a typhoon than a land city is in an earthquake,” he writes in his book Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity From Politicians.
He also believes these cities can undo some of the environmental damage we’ve left on land. His envisions a society where seaweed replaces soybeans as a major source of protein, solar energy from the ocean is harnessed instead of coal power, and sustainable algae farms become as common as pesticide-ridden crop fields.
While questions remain about the feasibility of this utopian society (not to mention its effect on aquatic life), people have already started to sign on. The Seasteading Institute’s discussion board has new posts every day from eager followers debating everything from how floating cities can withstand hurricanes to what kind of currencies they should use.
Quirk is heartened by this initial enthusiastic response and hopeful that more people will continue to get on board once they realize that this plan is in fact feasible.
“If the Cold War can put men in space, maybe man’s war with the Earth can put cities on the ocean,” he writes in Seasteading.“Nothing motivates people to work with nature like a natural disaster. DeltaSync wants a billion people on the seas by 2050. Let’s talk about the billion who may be the first to show up.”
One couple in Canada has already built a self-sustaining island of their own. Check it out here.