April 19, 2008

How not to seastead

(this will go into the book beta, in the Review section)

Here is a comment on a floating city post somewhere on the internet that represents, to me, exactly what is not needed to advance the movement:

Floating city is very feasible. I am a naval architect designed a whole city that can float in very deepwater and do not heave for severe storms. I have a USA patent. My original design has eight wings each 100m x 600 m and it has a center of attraction at the middle with school, auditorium, police, hospital, city hall, court, what not. One wing is dedicated for aircraft landing. Wave energy is utilized for power; all cars are electrical with public transport system. There is fishing, water purification, gardens, agriculture what not. There is a Disney land and there is a Las Vegas on board. It is a cool place for vacation, stay, live and work. Micro Soft, Bill Gate, can keep their employee there and develop software industry there. All the best expert would be on board and live in a place of solitude and peace and enjoy and more productive. No crime and well balanced place. It is completely shelf sustained. Any one seriously interested can contact me at..

Now, his city may be very nice. It may even be a good design of an artificial island city. But our (very rough, very preliminary) cost estimates are $250/ft^2, which is about a hundred million bucks an acre, which puts a price tag on his 120 acre dream of twelve billion dollars. Even MSFT or Bill Gates is going to flinch at that number. A design like this is solving an irrelevant problem: that of designing a 120 acre city.

This problem is irrelevant, because at the point where there is enough money to build and enough people to fill a 120 acre city, the naval architects of the world will be lining up outside the door of whoever is organizing the project, ready to present their qualifications. Since the design cost is only a tiny fraction of the building cost, it is pretty much irrelevant whether the design exists already or not – it can easily be commissioned. It’s as if I said "I have designed the world’s largest aircraft carrier! It will have dozens of high-tech fighters and bombers, a crew of ten thousand, redundant nuclear reactors, and many other great features. Anyone want to build it?"

Now, I’m glad that there are people out there who are so excited about floating cities that they work on designs for fun. I want people to be excited and inspired, and I think that it’s great that the idea of a floating city is so appealing. I’d love to see a 3D model of this guy’s city, for inspirational purposes, a vision to work towards. But it is important not to get distracted and mistake such visions for progress. Progress is funding, it’s working prototypes, it’s functioning business models (pirate radio stations), it’s people starting a data haven on Sealand. Sure, pirate radio and Havenco both failed. But when floating cities happen, they will happen from a start like that, not from a thousand people drawing a thousand designs of a city that will never be.