Game-Changing Facts About Floating Cities & Seasteading

It's an idea supported by one of the richest and most controversial men in Silicon Valley: seasteading. But what is seasteading, and what does it have to do with PayPal co-founder and Gawker enemy Peter Thiel? Well, a "seastead" is just a folksy name for a floating city, and Thiel is on board because he thinks that seasteads could someday be home to "libertarian utopias" where big ideas could thrive without government intervention.

So what are floating cities, exactly? And could floating cities really work? Floating cities can be constructed from many things: re-purposed abandoned oil-drilling platforms, brand new high-tech floating islands, or even just anchored boats tethered together. Former Sun engineer Wayne Gramlich coined the term "seastead" because he thought "homesteading on the high seas" could be a viable option, and libertarian activist Patri Friedman thought permanent seasteads were viable enough to quit his job as a software engineer at Google and team up with Gramlich to form the Seasteading Institute (TSI) in 2008 (with financial support from Thiel). 

Skeptics say that current seasteading technology isn't practical and it could be decades before seasteading takes off (if it ever does - some critics say the whole idea is bonkers). Regardless, there are a ton of amazing seasteading facts to explore: it's a fascinating topic even if you think it's absolutely insane. Enjoy these floating cities facts, landlubbers!

  • Seasteading Is Basically the Only Way to Create New Nations from Scratch

    Seasteading Is Basically the Only Way to Create New Nations from Scratch
    Photo: Liz Henry / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    Want to create your own country from scratch? If you want to do it on dry land, you're out of luck: as the Seasteading Institute points out, "there is no land unclaimed by existing governments." Seasteading advocates say that living at sea is likely the only way to truly start a new nation, noting that even unoccupied islands are controlled by existing countries that exploit their fishing and mineral resources.

  • Seasteading's Biggest Financial Backers Want to "Escape from Politics"

    Seasteaders aren't just in it for the cool ocean breezes: seasteading champions such as PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel want to use seasteads to "escape from politics in all its forms." Many wannabe seasteaders want to create self-sufficient "libertarian utopias" by "voting with their boats" instead of reforming existing political systems. Critics note that even a "libertarian utopia" is driven by politics, just a different kind of politics.

  • Governments May Not Leave Seasteaders Alone

    The history of establishing micro-nations similar to the ones proposed by the proponents of seasteading is pretty ugly. Existing nations typically assert jurisdiction (e.g., Tonga and the Republic of Minerva) or simply use force to destroy the micro-nation (e.g., Italy and the Republic of Rose Island).

    Seasteaders could seek temporary protection by adopting the flag of a nearby foreign country and thus subject themselves to local maritime law, but those countries would probably get pretty pissed if the seastead was a success and hundreds of its former citizens were living and working tax-free just off shore.

  • Seasteads Could Be Almost Entirely Self-Sufficient

    Seasteads Could Be Almost Entirely Self-Sufficient
    Video: YouTube

    A proposed Chinese seastead aims to be basically self-sufficient, with plans for tidal energy, on-site farms and hatcheries, and even a factory or two to create necessary goods. Residents technically would never have to leave the city and could even travel to work, parks, and various entertainment venues via submarine and electric car. The 10-square-kilometer island would even convert all its garbage into energy.

  • Some People Have Already Been "Seasteading" for More Than a Thousand Years

    Some People Have Already Been "Seasteading" for More Than a Thousand Years
    Photo: Edward Huntington Smith / WikiMedia Commons / Public Domain
    Think seasteading is wildly impractical? Tell that to the Tanka people of southeast China. The Tanka "boat people" have been living in floating homes and working on seafood farms since the Tang Dynasty (around 700 AD). About 7,000 of these so-called "gypsies of the sea" currently live in the floating city founded by their ancestors as a way to flee a mainland war.
  • The First Full-Time Modern Seasteaders Would Have to Be Super Rich

    The First Full-Time Modern Seasteaders Would Have to Be Super Rich
    Photo: frabrunelle / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    The first seastead prototypes will likely cost about $100,000 per occupant, which doesn't sound super pricey, but that's $100,000 in cash we're talking about. Banks likely won't accept a seastead as collateral, so it's not like buying a house.

    What does that $100,000 get you? If you're living in the seastead envisioned by Wayne Gramlich (who coined the term), only about 100 square feet of living space.