The Seasteading Institute, committed to the ongoing development of ocean communities, has just announced the winners of their first annual design content. Could people really end up living in these hypothetical off-shore communities?
The design contest had five categories: Overall, Best Picture, Aesthetics, Personality, and Community Choice. (The winners from each category are shown in this post in that particular order, so the first design up top is the Overall winner, the one to the right is Best Picture, and so on.) With prizes ranging from $250 to $1000, the design contest attracted both amateur and professional architects from around the world, as the winners hailed from such far-flung locales as Estonia, Hungary, Brazil, and Minnesota.
Seasteading, a term derived from combining "sea" and "homesteading", is a general term given to the notion of either converting existing structures, such as old boats or disused oil rigs, or custom-building new ones to allow people to live in the middle of the ocean. Generally, this also includes the interrelated goal of establishing a sovereign state on the open seas, away from any existing governmental structures on dry land. Patri Friedman and Wayne Gramlich - whose 1998 article "Seasteading – Homesteading on the High Seas" is generally given credit for popularizing the term - founded the Seasteading Institute in 2008 in order to better organize the seasteading effort.
Perhaps the most famous - and, to some extent, the only - example of successful seasteading is the microstate of Sealand, which started life as the World War II sea fort HM Fort Roughs. Located six miles off the coast of Suffolk, Sealand was occupied by Roy Bates and his family in 1967. Crowning himself Prince Roy, Bates declared the disused fort to be the independent Principality of Sealand. Although the "country" is only the size of about two tennis courts, the Bates family has lived on the desolate fort for much of the last four decades. As one might well imagine, Sealand's history is about as eccentric as it origins, including an attempted invasion by a group of German and Dutch entrepreneurs in 1978, which forced the exiled Prince Roy to take up arms to reclaim his country. (How that hasn't become a movie yet is completely beyond me.)
Sealand's story is well worth reading up on, as it's just about the only topic I know of that can make the differences between de jure and de facto diplomatic recognition absolutely fascinating. Still, the question remains what, if any, long-term viability seasteading has. The success of the Bates family at least suggests it's possible to exist out on the open sea with limited government oversight (although the British government did still handle all the mail sent to Sealand), and the Seasteading Institute has raised over 500,000 dollars in support of their work. Of course, whether that would be enough to build even a fraction of any of these designs is an open question. In the meantime, at least we can take some small comfort in the fact that, should Waterworld ever prove terrifyingly realistic, at least a few people will be well prepared.