United Sea-Nations

A further update to this blog’s very infrequent charting of seasteading developments.

Yesterday, Business Insider India posted a Twitter thread and article about the UN’s full repackaging of the Seasteading Institute’s patchwork vision for the future of “urban” development.

The @UN just unveiled a design for a new floating city that can withstand Category 5 hurricanes [1]

What once seemed like the moonshot vision of tech billionaires and idealistic architects could soon become a concrete solution to several of the world’s most pressing challenges. [2]

At a @UN roundtable on Wednesday, a group of builders, engineers, and architects debuted a concept for an affordable floating city. [3]

The company believes a floating city project would address both dire housing shortages and threats from rising sea levels. The structures themselves would be designed to withstand all sorts of natural disasters, including floods, tsunamis, and Category 5 hurricanes. [4]

The city would essentially be a collection of hexagonal platforms that can each hold around 300 residents. [5]

The designers consider a group of six platforms to be a “village.” The entire city would contain six villages, for a total of around 10,000 residents. [6]

The villages wouldn’t allow any high-emitting cars or trucks. [7]

The concept calls for “ocean farming,” which would involve growing food beneath the surface of the water. [8]

Though it’s referred to as a “floating city,” the community would actually be moored to the ocean floor. [9]

The city could also contain an aquifer system that pulls clean water out of the air. [10]

Pulling off a floating city concept is difficult, but within reach. It’s somewhat akin to landing on the moon. [11]

The scepticism which followed this thread — “This is how dystopian YA novels begin” [12]; “Presumably to be used by the rich in international waters to avoid paying tax.” [13] — is the same as it ever was, and with most being sceptical about how sound the engineering of these seasteads would be.

From what I’ve seen, seastead engineering is the least of its problems, with some brilliant people contributing to the project in its various guises.

However, I agree that the issue of who controls these spaces is a big issue. The “Oceanic Randianism” inherent to a lot of the Seasteading Institute’s PR ventures was poison if they wanted it to take hold within the popular imagination and last time I wrote about this it was following a major shift in how the Institute was presenting itself to the public. There was a major quietening of its founders’ political allegiances — although it’s uncertain if this was a genuine attempt to be more open or just a PR move.

There was a moment, about a year ago, when the Seasteading Institute’s project seemed dead in the water. Deals with certain nation-states to build in their waters quickly soured as trust evaporated into the same pervasive scepticism. The UN’s plans, though, whilst totally rebranded, seem to be exactly the same as what the Seasteading Institute was selling a year ago, so I do wonder about what has been going on behind the scenes… Selling it wholesale to the United Nations is certainly a major compromise on the part of the Seasteading Institute’s exit-oriented beginnings (if these two things truly are related). Perhaps this could be a smart move? But it’s hard not to assume it is a cunning one also.

Personally, I’m distrustful of the UN, anyway. There is a sense that it is nothing but a xenosystem for hegemonic neoliberal ideals. As such, I’m not sure if an intergovernmental approach to seasteading sounds like even more of a recipe for disaster than keeping it as a Silicon Valley pet project… The UN’s general position as an extraterritorial organisation is an interesting one, however, and this could be an interesting step towards the perforation of consolidated state powers and their proneness to tantrums over sovereignty, but all I see in its future is the UN’s member-states squabbling over various rights and protections. I’d like to be proven wrong, though.

One comment on this thread made the suggestion that this could be a great solution to various refugee crises, with seasteads becoming havens for forced or wilful nomads. That could start something really positive but, of course, there is a lot that remains to be seen…


  1. The concerns are valid only if we were dealing with a monopoly or an oligopoly. However, it is a matter of time before small businesses gain access to this technology and decentralize the process.

  2. Even if the UN is a neoliberal trap it is still good news as proof of concept. The obvious downside is that if proof of concept is established the cost of construction in claimed waters will skyrocket.

    I’m a fan of the idea of these platforms being used for refugees. It seems in keeping with Peter Singer’s maligned ideas on establishing safe zones. That said, I can already here the comparisons to floating prisons.

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