Who should be able to live on or near the coast?

A new federal government flood insurance plan highlights an ongoing question: should living near the ocean coast be available to many?

Photo by Daniel Jurin on Pexels.com

At the center of the fight are the questions of who gets to live by the water, and who should shoulder the burden of costs that rise with the sea level. The estimated 13 million people who reside in the officially designated floodplain are divided between those who can buy pricey waterfront homes and those consigned to live in less desirable, low-lying areas because that’s all they can afford. Some of the people hardest-hit by major recent storms have been vulnerable communities in New Orleans; Port Arthur, Texas, outside Houston; and poor neighborhoods in the farthest reaches of New York City. The updated flood-insurance system is designed to help those populations, but in coastal communities across the country, uncertainty about the new prices is spreading fear that however well intentioned, the administration’s policy will exacerbate the inequality of beachfront living, pushing out homeowners most sensitive to climbing insurance rates.

Real estate is famously about location, location, location with recent examples – COVID-19 migration and opportunities in the metaverse – illustrating this maxim. The coast may be one of the most desirable locations as there is only so much of it and people like the views and access to the water and beaches. Even though not all coastal properties are really expensive, such land near big cities and destinations can be very pricey with high demand.

Even as the insurance program is updated, perhaps the real long term question is just how many people should be able to live on the coast at all given climate change, environmental concerns including erosion and habitat degradation, and an interest in keeping shoreline available for public use. Is there any chance more coastline in popular areas is protected fifty or one hundred years from now or are the market pressures just too strong?

Keep scrolling for the chart that shows how deep in the ocean MH370’s may be

Richard Deitsch highlights this chart showing the possible depth of MH370’s black box. I’m not copying it here because it is one long chart.

Two things the chart does well:

1. On the way down to 15,000 feet, it shows relative heights and depths of other objects. Buildings don’t even come close and animal life is limited.

2. The effect of continued scrolling highlights just how deep the black box may be. The chart could have shrunk to fit the screen or a typical newspaper page but it would then lose the interactive element of going down more and more.

Planning for floating cities

A Dutch architect is taking inspiration from designing houseboats and thinking about cities built to float on the water:

Olthuis, who along with building partner Dutch Docklands, designed a section of floating islands for Dubai’s man-made Palm Islands development project, has also created a patent which scales up the technology used for a houseboat to floating structures big enough to hold cars, roads and houses.

“Water is a workable building layer or a floating foundation and if you turn water into space, which is a dramatic change of mindset, there’s a whole new world of possibilities,” Olthuis told Reuters…

“It is just a floating foundation, mostly made of concrete and foam which is quite stable, heavy, and goes up and down with waves and up and down with the sea level,” he said.

The floating city of the future is still a dream, but Olthuis’s firm, WaterStudio, which he started a decade ago, designs buildings and floating structures which try to combat the challenges posed by rising sea levels.

Sounds interesting but I imagine it is a ways away from being used for large-scale development.

The article suggests it is currently being used in one setting and is envisioned for another key use: it is currently for the wealthy but could be used in the future to help combat the rise of the oceans due to global warming. I wonder if it might have more practical uses today: imagine new tourist, residential, and commercial destinations built in major cities like New York or Chicago that are out over the water (not just in the water or relatively close to shore). What about relieving overcrowding in some cities by building out over the water? What about being able to put essential infrastructure out on the water (power plants, water treatment facilities, etc.)? If cities weren’t as limited by land and could utilize the water surface as well, this would encourage new opportunities.

Building libertarian cities in the middle of the ocean

This has been talked about for a while but here is a brief update on independent libertarian cities to be built in the oceans:

Pay Pal founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel has given $1.25 million to an initiative to create floating libertarian countries in international waters, according to a profile of the billionaire in Details magazine.

Thiel has been a big backer of the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to build sovereign nations on oil rig-like platforms to occupy waters beyond the reach of law-of-the-sea treaties. The idea is for these countries to start from scratch–free from the laws, regulations, and moral codes of any existing place. Details says the experiment would be “a kind of floating petri dish for implementing policies that libertarians, stymied by indifference at the voting booths, have been unable to advance: no welfare, looser building codes, no minimum wage, and few restrictions on weapons.”…

The Seasteading Institute’s Patri Friedman says the group plans to launch an office park off the San Francisco coast next year, with the first full-time settlements following seven years later.

While this sounds like some post-apocalyptic scene, these cities could provide an interesting Lord of the Flies situation. Even though these places will (or may) be built in order to escape regulations, they will have to adopt rules and norms of their own in order to survive. I will be interested to see what sort of society will develop in these new cities.

I also imagine that someone will try to control what happens on these islands. Although these places may be in international waters, I think there will be a discussion about how these rules should be altered. Won’t someone want to tax what happens on these islands or to make sure that they are not national security threats?