Seasteading Is An Utopian Vision for Homesteading the Ocean


There’s a saying that’s always been popular with American homesteaders: “They aren’t making any more land.” While it still holds as modern conventional wisdom, that’s not stopping a handful of innovative city planning pioneers and startup founders around the globe, who are taking their utopian visions of manifest destiny to “the blue frontier” — and using Burning Man as inspiration.

“Seastading,” a movement to create floating aquatic homesteads and entire “cities in the sea” as self-sufficient, Waterworld-like communities, is gaining steam among libertarians, smart cities ambassadors, and Silicon Valley scions (like Peter Thiel) — with the first pilot test set to launch in French Polynesia by 2020, according to The Independent. Called The Floating Island Project, the pilot development is projected to cost $167 million.

Whether for reasons of innovation adaptability and agility or for governmental autonomy (or both), pioneering founders and fans of seasteading — who call themselves “seavangelists” — envision a sustainable, flexible urban future out on the ocean where the laws of self-rule reign.

Using watery annexes of friendly countries and unincorporated aquatic territories for the first deep-sea dynamic societies, the urban architects of seasteading have been hosting competitions to find the perfect design and plan for the pilot since about 2015 — all of which feature about 300 homes, offices and restaurants, and other urban amenities found in land-loving cities.

Much like the Burning Man festival held each year in Nevada, where attendees build an entirely temporary and flexible—yet fully functioning—city in the desert in the span of just two weeks’ time, then take it down again two weeks later, proponents of seasteading hope to create more “plug and play” communities featuring urban architecture components that have a “zero footprint design” and can keep up with the future impacts of climate change, technological and green living advancements, and other societal and environmental issues.

No longer content to try to just push for a more utopian visions on land — through innovative real estate experiments and smart cities, or by using wealth to influence political changes — four such pioneers are Peter Thiel, Joe Quirk, and Patri Friedman (grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman), who together founded and run the San Francisco-based Seasteading Institute, as well as Koen Olthius of the Dutch-based initiative Floating City Apps.

Olthius coined the acronym FLOAT (Flexible Land On Aquatic Territory) for Floating Cities in this 2014 TED Talk, where he explains the utopian vision for seasteading micro-nations in definitive detail, and Quirk was recently interviewed by The New York Times about his Seasteading Institute’s influence on the movement — as well as his original inspiration at Burning Man:

For Mr. Quirk, Burning Man, where innovators gather, [his 2011 trip to Burning Man] 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.

The following year, Quirk and Patri co-authored the bible of the floating cities movement, called Seasteading: How Floating Nations Will Restore the Environment, Enrich the Poor, Cure the Sick, and Liberate Humanity from Politicians.

In his TED Talk, Olthius says that a good chunk of the billions of dollars of current investment dollars flowing into the seasteading sector are from wealthy private investors — who are plunking down $12M at a time for the promise of their own future seaworthy floating private island. Airbnb is even getting in on a piece of the action.

Here’s hoping the sea-rban planners incorporate all those great oceanic garbage patches into the foundations.

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