Want to live like Captain Jack Sparrow but worry you'd miss city life? Then it may float your boat to live in a city at sea.
We touched on this idea in our report "12 Bold & Bizarre Visions for Cities" in November and dismissed it. Trying to build a utopian community in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean might sound exciting, but I'd rather spend my time enjoying the cities that already exist.
Such cynicism is not deterring the Seasteading Institute, based in San Francisco, which is working on a concept to create floating cities free from the restrictions of nations, tax systems, and governments. Patri Friedman and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel started the institute in 2008 to push the idea of floating cities -- or "seasteads" -- as a solution to the engrained political and economic problems facing the world in the 21st century.
People on these seasteads would be able to use the freedom of living at sea to try out alternative social structures. Here is a promotional video that explains a little more:
This isn't the same as floating buildings that rise with the sea level but are still anchored to the ground. These sea cities could travel anywhere they want. It sounds like the idea of a Hollywood director or a madman (not that those groups are mutually exclusive).
The institute is serious about the idea. Last year, it commissioned Dutch engineering firm DeltaSync to conduct a feasibility study of a floating village for 225 full-time residents and 50 hotel guests; and on 16 December it published the final report. This sets out ideas for the technology that would be used to turn such a scheme into reality.
The report identified a potential location for the first seastead, in the Gulf of Fonseca by Honduras. It chose this location due to its benign tidal patterns, its tropical climate, and the absence of endangered marine species or coral reef that could be damaged.
It proposed that the seasteads would start out as small prototypes near coastal cities; and would eventually move further out as the technology advances and as the cities become better able to cope with the violent waves in the middle of the ocean. It is only in this final stage that we would be able to call these seasteads separate floating cities.
The challenges of building cities that could float in the middle of the ocean are immense, as you'd expect. DeltaSync identified six main objectives for these seasteads:
- Moving around: The city would need to be able to move from one location to another in case political interference made it unviable to stay in a particular place.
- Protecting individual freedom: Individual homes would be moveable within the seastead so that residents can live near who they want and exercise personal freedoms.
- Being robust: They would need to be able to cope with strong winds and waves.
- Letting people access the water: People living in sea cities should be able to access the water for leisure pursuits such as swimming, sailing, and diving. This is different from, say, oil rigs where people live in the sea but are cut off from the water.
- Meeting demand: The seasteads are designed in little sections they can be slotted together, which means they can expand as demand increases.
- Ensuring safety: This covers some of the previous points, but the structure must be secure; and the environment must mean they are able to enjoy their lives.
The company has also proposed how to create a liveable urban environment away from dry land. It says that seasteads could create bioguels from algae; gain other energy from renewable sources such as floating wind farms that could travel with the cities; and could feed the residents by growing fish and plants using "aquaponics," which is food production system where creatures and plants can grow in the same water without soil.
It doesn't sound especially appetizing, and the whole idea still strikes us as bizarre. The institute says the next step is to verify the findings of DeltaSync's report and hone the design, and after this it hopes to work with developers and investors to build it.
—Rich Heap, Community Editor, UBM's Future Cities