Seasteading Part 2: Market Applications

By: Shafer Higgins, Cheyenne Keeler, and Alexia Coston

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The prior blog post explained the overall concept and goal of seasteading. This blog post examines several specific potential applications. Market applications for seasteading are practically unexplored, but several initial models for the benefits of sea-based living are quietly taking shape. We highlight two use cases, a floating special economic zone and mobile floating infrastructure. They involve taking advantage of the freedom, flexibility, and mobility afforded by seasteading.

Floating Special Economic Zone

One of the potential applications of seasteading is a floating special economic zone geared toward innovation and global commerce. This seastead would consist of interlocking, modular, semi-mobile dwellings offering a combination of homes and office spaces, essentially a floating business incubator that could be scaled up or down according to demand. The initial investors would be a pool of businesses and individuals seeking to benefit from an accommodating legal environment geared toward innovation as well as the culture of inventiveness and intellectual ferment this self-selecting population would create. A pioneering firm could build and rent out these floating platforms to individuals and organizations seeking to benefit from these conditions.

This seastead would be located within the calm territorial waters of a friendly host nation. The Seasteading Institute (TSI) entered into negotiations with French Polynesia in early 2017 to begin developing a community based off of their research explained in the organization’s ‘Floating City Project’ report. Locating in the calmer, shallower waters with close proximity to land is beneficial for several key reasons. The logistics of establishing a seastead in deeper waters in the middle of the ocean are much more difficult and expensive. Shallow, calmer waters pose less of a challenge and require technology that is, for the most part, already in existence.

Safety is also a concern as seasteads in more volatile waters would be more vulnerable to the elements. Proximity to land also provides residents of the seastead with easier access to medical care, amenities, and travel.

Operating as an autonomous community connected to a host nation, as opposed to being fully sovereign, places the seastead within an international legal framework. This approach entails a legal agreement with the host nation allowing the seastead to operate with autonomy, functioning as a free economic zone, subject to some existing laws but able to determine others. For instance, Hong Kong’s relation to mainland China provides an analogy. Another pertinent parallel would be Neom, a planned special economic zone, to be established by Saudi Arabia in uninhabited desert, being designed in order to attract as much global commerce as possible; investors are being invited to help draft legislation attractive to them. The host nation would receive direct and indirect economic benefits from proximity to the seastead, which, in turn, would receive a sufficient degree of autonomy for its purposes.

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To get an idea of what types of regulations businesses and individuals could circumvent, it helps to look at a project called Blueseed, a realistic attempt at seasteading. Blueseed, Inc. was founded in 2011 with the purpose of creating a seasteading community 12 nautical miles outside of Silicon Valley, just outside the legal jurisdiction of the U.S. Residents are able to work from the seastead with the possession of just a tourist visa rather than the harder-to-get work visa. This seasteading community addressed the problem tech firms experienced in trying to secure visas for highly-skilled foreign workers.

Mobile Seasteading

A second use case is to build mobile seasteading dwellings and infrastructure to house climate refugees in times of rising sea levels and population displacement. Due to climate change, rising sea levels threaten to inundate islands and low-lying coastal areas.[1] Rather than spending billions on keeping the ocean waters at bay, governments, NGOs, corporations, and individuals could invest in floating housing and infrastructure. Floating developments could be used to improve the sanitation, housing, communication and power grids of overpopulated slums.

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Floating housing and infrastructure are mobile and can be shared and repurposed more easily than their land-based counterparts. For example, unused floating platforms and dwellings can be sent to another part of the world more in need of it, a more efficient solution than building homes that lie empty in one part of the world when people are lacking homes in another part. Koen Olthuis, a Dutch architect whose firm Waterstudio specializes in structures built on water, eloquently states:

“If you only construct the buildings you will use for 100 years statically, on land, and construct the buildings you will only use for 20 to 30 years flexibly, on water, then you’ve created a much more adaptable city that can respond to changing needs quickly and efficiently. If someone isn’t happy with their house anymore, they can ship it to someone who needs it in the Philippines.”

Olthuis has entered into a joint venture with the government of the Maldives, an island nation threatened by rising sea levels, and hopes to develop a seastead pilot by building smaller projects such as hotels and villas located nearby their shores.

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Our final blog post will examine some of the key obstacles to seasteading’s successful implementation.

Sources

[1] Keeton, Rachel. (2014, October 1). Has Floating Architecture’s Moment Finally Arrived?. Retrieved October 18, 2017, from https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/floating-architecture-cities-build-on-water

[2] Quirk, J., & Friedman, P. (2017). Seasteading: how ocean cities will restore the environment, enrich the poor, cure the sick, and liberate humanity from politicians. New York: Simon & Schuster.

[3] Greenpeace. (July 4, 2012). Retrieved from http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/impacts/sea_level_rise/

[4] Blain, Loz. (October 24, 2017).Introducing Neom, the 500 billion-dollar, ultra-high tech future megacity of Saudi Arabia. New Atlas. Retrieved from https://newatlas.com/neom-saudi-arabia-future-megacity/51893/.

Pictures

[1] https://discuss.seasteading.org/t/evolutionary-context-seasteading-ocean-colonization/1941/14

[2] https://www.wired.com/2011/12/blueseed/

[3] https://inhabit.com/inhabit-interview-water-architect-koen-olthuis-on-how-to-embrace-rising-sea-levels

[4] https://www.seasteading.org/2015/11/podcastmaldives-floating-city-koen-olthuis-of-waterstudio/

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