Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Blue-sea thinking A few years ago I took part in a city visioning project in Peterborough, in the low-lying east of England. In a 3D modelling exercise, some of us were putting homes on stilts. I recall that it had to be pointed out to one or two local stakeholders that by 2030, they will probably be under water. (Image via). The lesson was that this hadn’t been taken on - although recent months of flooding will by now have helped to spread awareness among all but the most bone-headed and selfish (naming no names, some of which are here). I was reminded of this while flicking through the Guardian’s article and images about floating cities. These places already exist, after a fashion – enormous cruise ships for the flitting unlocated wealthy, who apparently would rather keep circumnavigating the globe than pay taxes to a state – but not yet in the sense envisaged by a few architects, planners and utopians such as the Seasteading Institute. Either way, in the promo material the sea is nearly always crystal clear and flat. Incidentally, I don't take much interest in films, but I'd appreciate it if someone could direct me to an apocalyptic post-flood movie I saw part of once, which had memorable lines like 'They did something bad, the ancestors, didn't they?' You bet they did. This is fascinating stuff, and I’m all for an ambitious dose of what amounts to blue-sea thinking, every so often. It’s easy to drift off into some unrealistic scenarios though. Here’s the Seasteading take on the personal advantages of living in a floating village, for example: ‘Personal Freedom - People will soon be able to live in floating cities, and enjoy the freedom of the high seas. As the last unclaimed territory on the earth, the ocean provides the ability to live peacefully without the encyclopedia of laws and tangle of bureaucracies present on land. Seasteaders will be able to start fresh, live with minimal regulation, and explore a bold experiment with personal freedom.’ You might need Californian contact lenses to see things that way, but to me that’s just a cue to think more closely about the nature of neighbouring in contexts where people may not have much choice in the kind of floating neighbourhood they have to inhabit. What kind of scale are we talking about? What kind of neighbourhood might it be, for instance, if you can’t just get up and walk across some notional blurred boundary into the next one? What are the governance implications? What kinds of social network might we come to depend on? And who will occupy the physical high ground?

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