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Architecture Architecture General

Floating city – a sci-fi trope or a salvation for many nations?

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by: Ariana M
Floating city – a sci-fi trope or a salvation for many nations?

In 1995, Universal Studios released a movie called “Waterworld”. It takes place in distant future, where polar ice caps have completely melted and the sea consumed nearly all of the land, forcing remaining humans to live on floating communities. At the time this was the most expensive movie ever made – and it wasn’t exactly a box office hit. But would it be possible to successfully recreate the futuristic communities from the movie in real life? The Seasteading Institute answers this question with a resounding “yes!”

Seasteading Institute is a non-profit organisation that was founded in 2008 and their mission is “ to enable seasteading communities – floating cities – which will allow the next generation of pioneers to peacefully test new ideas for government”. They have partnered up with many companies, academics, architects and governments, and they are aiming to build the first prototype off the coast of Tahiti by 2020.

Solution to rising sea levels that raises concerns

At first glance, the idea seems very appealing. Rising sea levels and populism are putting pressure on many communities and the founders of Seasteading Institute are hoping to give people a chance to redesign society and experiment with new forms of government. According to Joe Quirk, the current president of the institute, existing governments don’t get better because “land incentivizes a violent monopoly to control it”. Thus, according to him “no land means no problem”, but this isn’t a view that’s shared by everyone.

Many experts have criticized the plan, calling it impractical and elitist. Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University described the idea as “apartheid of the worst kind”. He argues that only the wealthy will be able to afford living on these islands and allowing them to set their own rules will only further the divide between the wealthy and the rest of the world. He also doubts that this is something that will be possible to sustain long-term in most places from a societal point of view – after all, healthcare, education and various forms of entertainment are vital to societies, yet hard to deliver in such small, isolated communities.

However, Professor Newman did agree that we have the technology to create such eco-friendly, self-sustaining cities. Neil Davies, the executive director of the University of California agrees with him – it is possible to build floating cities that wouldn’t have a negative impact, as long as you respect certain conditions about shading and location. A precedent was set by the Barrier Reef Resort, which was located about 70km(or 43,5 miles) off Queensland coast. It withstood a cyclone and water quality and noise monitoring has shown that it had no significant effect on the surroundings. 

man in cardboard box water city

Floating cities are not a way to escape environmental issues – they are a way to solve them

Mr Quirk’s plans are truly ambitious when it comes to making these islands self-sufficient and sustainable. The islands will be built on floating panels that will help regenerate coral reefs and reverse coral bleaching. This will be made possible by positioning them in such a way that a perfect balance of light and shadow will be created to allow for photosynthesis, while at the same time lowering the temperatures enough to achieve restorative effect. In addition to this, the floating panels will have a plethora of solar panels integrated into them to power the islands.

Regenerating coral reefs isn’t the only positive impact on the environment Mr Quirk is hoping his seasteads can achieve. The Institute is hoping to harness ocean aquaculture as a way to meet food, energy and nutritional supplement demands. Rutger de Graaf and Karina Czapiewska are aquatic engineers from the Netherlands that have partnered up with the Seasteading Institute to create algae farms. Micro- and macroalgae (better known as plankton and seaweed) have an important role in regulating the earth’s atmosphere, absorbing waste such as oil spills and providing food for fish, as well as being a valuable crop on their own. When seaweed is mass-produced, it can also be converted into biofuel. This way the islands can not only be self-sufficient, but also provide communities on land with more eco-friendly energy and food sources – all while helping create new, complex ecosystems that will be able to sustain thousands of species.

Another technology that Mr Quirk is hoping to see implemented in their seasteads are drifter pens made by Velella Mariculture Research Project. These pens will allow to farm fish in conditions that are closest to their natural habitats, but are in fact better. The fish are well-fed, they have no parasites, don’t get exposed to mercury and pesticides, all while being able to school like they would in the wild. This technology is a sustainable food source and it is set to help repopulate oceans with healthier, happier fish. The founder of Velella Mariculture Research Project, Neil Anthony Sims, says “We need to bring together the environmental motive, the humanitarian motive, the profit motive, so they are not at odds with each other, but aligned with each other.”

Certainly, these plans sound incredibly ambitious – but if realised, these floating cities can transform many nations and have a positive impact on the environment, economies and societies around the globe.

Do you think that Seastead Institute will be able to make these floating communities? Are there similar projects that you think could become more successful? Let us know in the comments below!

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