The hurricane season in the Western hemisphere has come to a close, leaving many island-nations and southern United States scrambling to make repairs and cut damages. Within growing conversations about human damage to the environment and its impact on freak natural disasters, Seasteading, a non-profit organization, is working to build the first floating city that could reverse damage done to the environment.
Established in 2008 in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, The Seasteading Institute plans on building a floating city off the coast of French Polynesia in the South Pacific Ocean. The city, according to the Institute, are a pilot to test how humankind can learn to live together in environmentally-friendly dwellings. The organization’s goal is to maximize entrepreneurial freedom and reverse damage accrued to the environment. Earlier this year, The Seasteading Institute signed a memorandum of understanding with the French Polynesian government to begin working on the floating island project by 2020.
The floating city, also called a “seastead,” will consist of a community living at sea that is largely responsible for setting its own rules and creating its own culture. Located in a natural lagoon off the coast of French Polynesia, the socio-economic framework of the seastead will be similar to the concept of special economic zones and will be governed under a “special government framework.” Although the city’s governance is yet to be determined, local French Polynesian laws and International Law may be applied to the island city in varying degrees, according to The Institute.
Coupled with homes, restaurants, offices, schools, and hotels at its core, the seastead will focus on the creation of new job opportunities for residents of the city. The Seasteading Institute emphasizes the importance of aquaculture, vertical farming, and scientific and engineering research in creating new jobs, but also in maintaining a sustainable ecosystem in and around the floating city.
The seastead itself, which will be set afloat around one kilometer (~0.5 mile) from French Polynesia, is planned to be entirely self-sufficient and renewable. The panels upon which the man-made islands will be built, equipped with scores of solar panels, are also planned to help in reversing coral bleaching. Joe Quirk, co-founder of Blue Frontiers, the organization that will administer and build the seastead, believes that the floating city could help regenerate coral reefs. “[We] have devised a plan to position the platforms to create some shadows to lower the temperatures. So as the sun moves about, you get enough light on the ocean floor to spark photosynthesis, but you lower the heat just enough to have a restorative effect.”
Conceptually, the floating city may seem promising, given that the organization has explicitly mentioned the importance of not interfering with local usage of the site or with the environment. In more realistic terms, however, there may be a number of hurdles that the Seastead Institute needs to overcome like piracy, affordability, and compliance with ‘host nation’ domestic law. The Seasteading Institute commissioned a similar project in the San Francisco Bay that was set for completion in 2010, but the project never materialized. And since the floating city project near French Polynesia is being funded through cryptocurrency, the stability of which is projected to fluctuate in coming years, this project could face similar challenges as its San Francisco sister project did.
As innovative as a floating city in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean is, the concept of seasteading itself is not novel. According to Business Insider, seasteading has, in recent years, become a symbol of the tech industry’s utopian visions for the future. The Seasteading Institute has also made clear that one of the project’s goals is to attract businesses and investors to French Polynesia, which may or may not have a positive impact on the island-nation’s economy. All in all, while the project has many promising effects on the environment, local and international economy, and our collective understanding of communal governance, the world is yet to see how foolproof the floating city will be.