Busan, a South Korean city, plans a floating district


FOR YEARS some libertarians dreamed of creating floating colonies. Fans of seasteading talk about creating self-sufficient hamlets in international waters, which charge little or no tax. In 2019 Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet, an American and a Thai, spent time living in a small floating cabin about 12 miles off the coast of Thailand. The Thai government opposed it, towing its “sea square” soon after it was built.

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Elsewhere in Asia, governments see the value in making people live off water (but not govern themselves). In November, officials at Busan, a port in South Korea, said they planned to offer space for a floating district that could be built near its shore. The project is supported by UN-HABITAT, a UN agency that deals with urbanization. Itai Madamombe of Oceanix, the company that aims to finance and build the floating platform, says its prototype will cost around $ 200 million and can accommodate 300 to 500 people. In theory, connecting many of them could create a neighborhood that can accommodate 10,000.

The idea is to demonstrate a tool that cities could use to adapt to rising sea levels. Building floating urban blocks is arguably more sustainable than land reclamation, which requires masses of land. sand. Authorities in Busan seem to think the project will give its shipbuilders a boost. South Korean cities are used to supporting large infrastructure projects that can benefit local industry.

One of the founders of Oceanix, Marc Collins Chen, previously ran a company seeking to create a special economic zone in a Tahitian lagoon. (Some settlers recognize that living in international waters would be inconvenient and expensive; it is best to work with governments willing to offer some autonomy in calm seas near shore.) This project failed amid protests from locals, who did not like the idea of ​​an influx of tax evasion.

Residents of the Busan Floating District are not expected to benefit from any special rules. Instead, the goals are technical: find out if floating neighborhoods can be comfortable, affordable, and scalable. These lessons could one day help those who still hope that the houseboats can help them escape state grip. But not if governments get there first.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the title “A Stopover in the Ocean”


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