Space in a City - especially shoreside space - is highly competed, never available, extremly expensive, and in short supply.
The introduction of floating real estate changes this paradigm completly.
Living space can now be built on the watersurface with no limits to expansion. That is new. New technology creates new opportunities.
While real estate developers have always been limited by the borders of the building lot the oceanic real estate developer is unlimited as he has the whole watermantle of the planet available for no cost.
The answer of the 1930ies to the need for living space in limited building lots was "the highrise" making the "Air" above the building lot available as sellable real estate squaremeters.
The answer of the 21st century is making the watersurface available as sellable real estate.
Oceanic Real Estate in form of a landfill in shallow water… this has obvious expansion limits - limits that are clearly overcome by floating real estate developments.
Floating Marina of Manga seen from the upper floor of a Skyscrapper in Cartagena…
Bay, Harbor, Cartagena
Cartagena Skyscrapper Line - seen from the sandy island of Tierrabomba
“Data Havens, Red Light Districts, Radical Offshoring, and Other Extrastate Enclaves of Globalism”
Published in Dutch architecture journal Volume.
Globalism generates odd effects. One of these is the recent proliferation of extraterritorial sites outside of the conventional system of laws, borders, and territories. They exist as bubbles or islands within the legal framework of globalism—generating radical new forms of urbanism that commingle physical and digital infrastructures at a pace that outstrips our ability to regulate, or even to fully comprehend, them. Some, such as Special Economic Zones and free ports, are sanctioned by the world system of governments. Others, such as the darknet and the infrastructure of data havens that support it, are unsanctioned and often illegal.
Extraterritorial urbanisms, built on information networks, have always existed. The earliest global “internet” arguably appeared in the form of a 15th century spice trade network tethering together Brazil to Europe to Africa to Asia, carrying goods but also information to a diverse constellation of cities—each with its own localized juridical system. Yet then, as now, the very information network that gave rise to global trade cities acted as a destabilizing force on local state apparatuses. Codified local laws arose in some sense to secure the modern nation-state against the transgressive influence of the information network. Therefore, extraterritorial islands—free ports, pirate utopias—appeared within this global hub-and-spoke network that were free from such laws. Later extraterritorial urbanisms followed this same pattern, from the Free Ports of the 15th century Hanseatic League; to the pirate utopias of the 18th century Barbary Coast; to West Berlin during the Cold War; to the now-demolished Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong; to the red light districts in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Bangkok and elsewhere; to temporary autonomous urbanisms such as Burning Man; to drop-out villages and seasteads around the globe. These are spaces of freedom unencumbered by conventional laws.
Many of these conditions can be explained through Michel Foucault’s concept of a heterotopia, a space of otherness that exists primarily as a counterpoint to normal spaces. For without the presence of heavily territorialized or even homotopic spaces (generic, normal, law-bound) these extraterritorialized zones could not exist. Foucault, working as an historian, cites the colony and the brothel as extreme examples of heterotopias.[i] But the former colonies have all dried up and been replaced, one might argue, by global Special Economic Zones, instant cities in the developing world that are attempting to create a frictionless space through which money can move. In former colonies such as Shenzhen, China or Hyderabad, India, this new type of legal (but extraterritorial) economic free zone has emerged as the central space of global capitalism—articulately described by Keller Easterling in her recent work.[ii] If the colonies were measured and ranked in terms of their output of productive resources, then these new SEZs work in the same way: tax-free havens through which corporations can maximize profit. Foucault’s brothels, on the other hand, have largely moved online. They flourish in digital red light districts or illegal encrypted dens.
What has complicated our picture of extraterritoriality is precisely this sudden entanglement of physical and digital spaces of freedom: real-life tax havens for electronic currency, digital darknets for paraphilic sexual acts, encrypted videos of black ops massacres. Though they are housed in physical sites around the globe, these data are literally extraterritorial, distributed in such a way that they have no physical territory. (In fact, one could make the more abstract argument that the entire internet is simply a vast, enmeshed extraterritorial zone.)
The entanglement of the digital and physical has paralleled the rise of the surveillance state and the sudden awareness that, through PRISM and Xkeyscore and other insidious technologies, the government was watching us all along. If the old pirate utopias and physical autonomous zones are no longer safe from the government’s gorgon-eyed surveillance systems, then perhaps these holes and hideouts can be distributed over the internet. This may be why the recent news stories about Julian Assange and Edward Snowden appear so legally murky. The “crime” is already out there, and spreading like oil on water, whether its perpetrators are in custody or not. We all saw the strange images of white-haired Assange waving from the balcony of a political extraterritoriality (the Ecuadorian Embassy in London) while under threat of incarceration prompted by his activities around an information extraterritoriality (Wikileaks’ encrypted information time-bomb hidden in pockets throughout the darknet.) A second, related image is of Edward Snowden trapped for five weeks in the pre-customs area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Snowden was ensnared in a political extraterritoriality because of his activities in an information extraterritoriality. Like Assange, he had distributed his trove of encrypted information in various havens within the darknet. In these cases, the digital pollutes the physical, or vice versa. The world system of governments’ response to Assange, Snowden, and Bradley Manning’s insurrections was to imprison them physically—to physically shrink their world to the size of an embassy, a customs area, a cell—as if such an act would stuff the leaked data-bomb genie back into the bottle. But there is no gathering back up of spilled information.
While there’s no common term for the diversity of extraterritorial spaces, the word freezone seems to apply to all of these conditions. Such freezones come in several “flavors”—economic, informational, and hedonistic. Many of the extraterritorial conditions predicted in the 1980s by so-called cyberpunk authors such as Bruce Sterling (Islands in the Net), William Gibson (Neuromancer), and Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon) appear to have come true, though with little of the ontological angst that one would expect when science fiction suddenly merges with reality. As JG Ballard said, “the future has been annexed to the present.”[iii] In some ways, this is an old story: the media’s obsession with “cyberspace” and “the virtual” in the 1990s gave way to taking cyberspace for granted in the 2000s. But as real and digital life have become more and more fully enmeshed, the complications of this relationship are ever more pronounced. These spaces are also heavily contested and even masked from view, since they automatically work against the State’s need for order and control. Architects and urbanists have always toyed with the possibilities for extraterritoriality: how to stretch and manipulate space so that it works around laws, codes, regulations. But with the acceleration of culture and the widening of extraterritoriality, these questions have become both broader and more specific. How to hide the physical architecture that runs an illegal digital site? How to carve out a space of freedom from within the bounds of law? How to build a utopian enclave within the bounds of everyday life? And in fact, the discourse surrounding utopia could be described in another way as a discourse on freedom through extraterritoriality. The rise of the internet has extended the domain of Utopia beyond the physical.
Economic Freezones: Radical Offshoring
Shenzhen/Hong Kong Megalopolis. As the infrastructure of global commerce increases in volume—in the form of big box retail, shipping centers, pastoral office parks, dense business districts, shopping malls—so too does its dependence on the intangible realms of data and information. Marc Augé (and later Negri and Hardt) made distinctions in an anthropological sense between places and non-places, between zones of identity and localization versus zones of anonymization. The space of globalism is largely the latter. As such, it naturally resist stabilizing, localizing forces such as borders, instead operating according to the lubricated fluencies of circulation, speed, and instantaneity.
In places like the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, entirely new forms of urbanism have sprung up merely to serve as conduits for these flows of global capital and data. These are zero- or low-tax enclaves designed to be attractive to global business. Economic Freezones such as these are arguably the most important nuclei in our global network of trade. These city-enclaves are hyper-economic but appear on the face to be apolitical—aesthetic cityscapes dedicated to a future that is sleek, abundant, and free. Yet, despite the conceit of freedom, they exert control on citizens in myriad ways (subverting the possibilities for both hedonistic and information freedom.) For instance, Singapore’s seeming economic openness is a veneer pulled over an extreme carceral and surveillance state, where even chewing bubble gum can get you arrested.[i] Dubai allows for limited access to “Western” vices such as alcohol and pornography, but is otherwise bounded by a strict Sharia law.
Keller Easterling has described this evolving global system as the Zone, and the tangled political/economic processes that influence and direct it as Extrastatecraft—literally, statecraft applied to extraterritoriality, but more figuratively, the process of crafting extraterritorial states.[ii] Each day, new cities, new sectors of cities, and new buildings appear as hubs in this reticulated system (though one could argue that the vectors connecting this system are more important than its hubs. The lines of air travel, maritime shipping, rail, and car transport are central to the making of sites of global capital. When seen in the proper light as a timelapse image, these lines nearly cover the globe in its entirety.)
These Special Economic Zones are premised on a new global condition of instant digital data and its physical counterpart—just-in-time production strategies—which rely heavily on data systems for controlling inventory and fabrication. The 19th and 20th centuries were dedicated to the conquest of space and territory, both in the form of colonialism and resource extraction. But the conquest of time appears as the socio-spatial-economic problem for the 21st century, as we move closer and closer to an instantaneousness of action, a perpetual kinetic life that tries to arrive before it left, to get it there, as the phrase goes, yesterday. With the rise of Easterling’s Extrastatecraft as a new description of urbanism, the resistances of space are dissolving, along with their accompanying technologies. Is it possible that as the world nears the threshold of its speed of transaction, the moment of limitless escape will have been achieved in a miraculous flash of light—the second carved to infinity?
Oil Rigs and Junk Barges. At the same time that corporations migrate their headquarters to these special economic zones, the global superelites (the 1% of 1%) are attempting to create individualized extraterritorial bubbles around themselves. Already, many of these elites travel on private jets that are allowed streamlined customs checks at national borders. They stash fortunes in tax havens ($21 trillion by current estimates!) whose names we’re all familiar with: the Cayman Islands, Andorra, Liechtenstein, and many others.[iii] They are buying, in some sense, extralegality.
The next logical extension is for elites to form their own nations with bespoke legal systems. And in fact the possibility for offshoring new nations has become a real transhumanist libertarian project of late. Peter Thiel, the radical libertarian venture capitalist who funded Facebook, has invested heavily in the idea of seasteading, whereby corporations or individuals would move to mobile platforms or repurposed barges in international waters, beyond the reach of both national laws and taxes. There already exists a market for decommissioned oil rigs and platforms that can be converted to private micronations, free from all laws. The most famous of these is Sealand, an old British sea fort in the North Sea, which may or may not be its own principality. When it was occupied by Paddy Roy Bates in 1967 (by overthrowing a rival pirate radio station), it existed outside of UK territorial waters. But in 1987 the UK simply voted to extend their territorial waters to include it. Extraterritory becomes territory in an instant. But Thiel’s project is to create mobile extraterritorial seasteads that could be moved as international borders shift.
Along the same lines, Blueseed is a startup that Thiel is partly funding, dedicated to creating an offshore Silicon Valley on a repurposed barge. Blueseed would float twelve nautical miles from the mouth of San Francisco Bay, outside US territorial waters. International citizens could work on the Blueseed barge without need for a US visa, forming as it were their own cruise-ship micronation. A thirty-minute ferry would shuttle from Half Moon Bay to the ship. In theory, seasteads such as these would be free from taxes, intellectual property law, drug laws, and sexual prohibitions, allowing for a perfect triumvirate of economic, political, and bodily freedom.
What Theil and others are proposing is an escape from what they see as overreaching national laws—the possibility for a new social experiment using a physical architecture that is wholly unregulated. It recalls the Michel Foucault quote about heterotopias: “The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”[iv] Oil rigs, abandoned sea forts, repurposed cruise ships, junk barges in international waters: these could be the sites of future political struggle between state governments and radical libertarians.
The Honduran Jungle. Patri Friedman, the grandson of libertarian economist Milton Friedman, has proposed a potentially more radical idea. For several years, he has scoured the globe asking developing nations for permission to build a new charter city with, as he says, a “cutting-edge legal system.” Having been rejected by a number of African and Asian nations, he finally arrived in Honduras, which showed interest. The country has set aside 1,000 square kilometers of coastal jungle in order for a group of libertarian economists and urbanists to create an experimental urban enclave with its own codes, laws, and architecture.[v] Imagine the landscapes of the Honduran coast overlaid with the urbanism of Hong Kong and the legal system of the Netherlands.
Such extraterritorial charter cities would act as hyper-Shenzhens: radically deregulated economic enclaves meant to attract global capital to otherwise unappealing locales. As an ancillary, quasi-humanitarian effect, the theory is that underdeveloped host nations would benefit economically from the presence of these new charter cities.
Biotech Islands. Along these same lines, Google founder Larry Page recently hinted at his interest in building new sites for radical techno-social experimentation. We might call these biotech freezones, places where morally gray or even extralegal scientific research could occur. One might imagine enclaves where cloning, tailored genetic mutations, advanced robotics or even weaponry could be experimented with. As Page said at a recent conference, “we don’t want our world to change too fast. But maybe we could set apart a piece of the world…an environment where people can try new things. I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out new things and figure out the effect on society. What’s the effect on people, without having to deploy it to the whole world.”[vi] What Page is proposing is essentially an updating of the Island of Dr. Moreau, a place where companies could test out cutting-edge ideas unfettered by laws.
Soi Cowboy Bangkok
sex box zurich
Hedonistic Freezones: Red Light Districts
De Wallen and Soi-Cowboy. The classic image of an extraterritorial zone is a red light district where one can realize all manner of physical pleasures: sex, drugs, transgression. Such sites are dedicated to the liberation not of information or money, but of the body. Picture William Burrough’s Interzone from Naked Lunch. But with the rise of SEZs, data havens, and other extraterritorial spaces of global capital, the old idea of a red light district seems almost quaint, a Gothic artifact from the early information age. When the internet can supply all manner of paraphilias instantaneously, of what use is a traditional prostitute’s red-lit cabin or a hash bar in De Wallen? The most notorious of these seedy enclaves— Bangkok’s Soi-Cowboy, Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, and perhaps especially Amsterdam’s De Wallen—have to some extent become novelty zones or even sites of slum tourism. Though they still supply the public with a legal form of prostitution, recent crackdowns and redevelopment plans are attempting to transform De Wallen into an upscale fashion area. Haute couture with a veneer of sex tourism: global capital piggybacks in on extreme hedonism. (Elsewhere, physical red light districts are updating their delivery models. Zurich has initiated new drive-in sex boxes—ostensibly to protect both prostitutes and clients—crafted out of homey rough timber and lit in theme park multicolor.)
Yet the idea of a digital red light district is flourishing, even as real world ones are under threat. In three years, the online drug market Silk Road grew from a small peer-to-peer drug trading network into a multi-billion dollar darknet industry. And the internet, as moralists like to say, is awash in pornography, both legal and illegal. The illegal stuff is, much like the Silk Road, anonymized and hidden from view in various corners of the darknet. These hidden zones of the darknet are not extraterritorial in the traditional sense, since the whole internet is deterritorialized. But they are extralegal. And this is perhaps where a distinction can be made between real and digital life.
Despite, however, the seeming impenetrability of anonymized spaces on the darket, it is possible to be found. In September of this year, Silk Road was shut down. Its owner turned out not to be a larger-than-life drug lord, but an unassuming 29-year old software engineer named Ross Ulbricht. His operation was so low-key, so hidden from view, that his two San Francisco roommates had no idea he was running a business worth $1.6 billion out of his small subleased bedroom. His profits were exclusively in the deterritorialized cryptocurrency called Bitcoin, which is not tethered to a State or central bank.
pionen data haven
Assange of wikileaks
Information Freezones: Data Havens and Darknets
The White Mountain. Embedded in the White Mountains outside of Stockholm is a cave containing an old nuclear defense bunker. In 2008, the space was redesigned as a data haven in the image of an old Bond villain lair by Albert France-Lanord Architects, complete with interior waterfalls, moody lighting, ferns, and even a low-lying fog suffusing the space. But its main feature are the hundreds of server boxes containing mirror sites for Wikileaks and the Pirate Bay, among others—encrypted data that could bring down governments or destabilize corporations.
In light of the recent disclosures that the NSA is monitoring a huge percentage of global communication, it makes sense that such protected digital enclaves would appear. Hidden back-alleys and hideouts within the internet, where illegal markets such as Silk Road for drugs or the Armory for weapons operate using deterritorialized currencies like Bitcoin. Yet Data Havens require physical architectures to exist, most often with an appearance of impenetrability. White Mountain is protected by a 40-centimeter thick steel door capable of withstanding a hydrogen bomb, enshrining Wikileaks’ data in a physical blast shelter. Similarly, the Cyberbunker in the Netherlands, a Cold War concrete bunker painted jet black, was converted into a mirror site for Wikileaks and the Pirate Bay (after a fire in 2002, an Ecstacy/MDMA lab was also discovered in the facility.) Other mirror sites are scattered around the globe, some known, some unknown. Much of this informational freespace also exists on private hard drives in private households—domestic micro-freezones in beige boxes.
The Ecuadorian Embassy. Perhaps the central figure in the global fervor over NSA surveillance is Julian Assange—white haired, stark in appearance, a perfectly cast figure for a one man resistance to government spying. As a so-called cypherpunk, Assange believes in the politically liberating abilities of encrypted spaces of freedom within the internet. For a long time Assange seemed to exist everywhere and nowhere at once. Both physically and digitally, he was a nomad. But as the focus of the surveillance state narrowed in on him, his migratory possibilities closed around him. Finally, he ended up trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. This was his extraterritorial bubble from which he could not be extradited even twenty feet into a public London street, where he would be arrested. The furthest he could travel, it seems, was onto a Mussolini Balcony in the Embassy’s library, from which he made various statements to the press. Even from within this soft prison, Assange has become an informal spokesperson for like-minded figures around the globe, working to gain Edward Snowden asylum in Ecuador.
Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow. For a month last June, Edward Snowden slept in a capsule hotel in the transit zone of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, trapped as it were in the airport’s pre-customs area. A persona non grata, citizen of nowhere, not able to travel to his birth country nor able to enter Russian territory. Twenty countries refused him asylum until Russia finally relented. In a strange historical inversion, he became the US’s Solzhenitsyn, seeking refuge in Russia for his dissidence at home. But he doesn’t have possession of the information for which he is now infamous, about PRISM and Xkeyscore. Instead, it’s cached away in various locations on the darknet.
Snowden, Assange, the Silk Road have become emblematic of the world-system’s desire to stamp out unsanctioned extraterritorial zones. When these sites serve the flow/flood of global capital, as is the case with Special Economic Zones and Free Ports, they are both approved and lauded. But when they attempt to promote individual liberty over/against the nation-state, they are constrained, co-opted, crushed, erased. Even temporary autonomous urbanisms such as Burning Man, which started as an underground event, have moved into the broad light of day and become heavily publicized mega-events. For all the rhetoric about autonomy and freedom, such zones are just as heavily policed as a typical city.
As the interpenetrations of the physical and the digital increase, we are likely to see even more contentious battles over physical space—and ever more desperate attempts to carve out clearings within the totality of laws. We may see the rise of new zones of freedom and autonomous spaces beyond state control. Ass always, laws will struggle to keep up with the elastic evolution of the extraterritorial. In addition to Special Economic Zones such as Shenzhen and Hyderabad, we might witness in the near future new urban types dedicated to pleasures of the body, or of free information, or of radical biotechnological experimentation, or all of these at once……a hyper-Shenzhen in the Honduran jungle?
Built on Sand: Singapore and the New State of Risk
In June 2014, drivers crossing the causeway between Singapore and Johor, Malaysia, began to notice something strange. A slender sandbar, which had long stood in the middle of the narrow straits, had started to grow, and was slowly inching toward Singapore. Construction vehicles had arrived, and small barges passed continuously, dumping load after load of sand into the water. Newspapers soon reported that this expanding mound was to become the site of Forest City, a 2,000-hectare high-rise housing development jutting out from the Malaysian port of Tanjung Pelepas. As this privately funded project crept toward Singapore’s national border, the security state doubtlessly felt violated. In response, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong requested that the Malaysian government halt work on the project, and threatened to file a complaint with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg.
Forest City and its backstory are emblematic of an emerging issue of a transnational order. Less obvious than the increased capital flows across territories is the flow of territory itself. That is, land. Or, more accurately, sand.
With the rise of sand trading, the nation-state has entered a dangerously fluid phase. With the coastal earthworks that are under way throughout Southeast Asia and the Middle East—a series of reclamations so large that they nearly encroach on sovereign borders—territory has acquired an unprecedented liquidity. The malleability of sand makes it a uniquely volatile substance. Its softness and scalability distinguish it from other modes of infrastructure. As journalist Chris Milton pointed out in a 2010 essay in Foreign Affairs, sand is a medium by which massive environmental change can be effected via incremental processes.1 It is granular—neither liquid nor solid—which means that it can be transported by the boatload or by the handful. In large quantities, it can be engineered into the most fundamental of all infrastructures: land itself. In contrast to the materiality of other “fixed” infrastructures, however, sand is removed and sold by a great number of agents, and is brokered by governing authorities at local and national levels. Many dealers are illicit, and allegedly trade without genuine receipts. As such, the transnational drift of sand leaves only the most fragmentary of traces. Disappearances are difficult to map and nearly impossible to quantify. A number of importers, including Singapore, consider the details of their sourcing to be confidential and a matter of national security. In this context, the physical basis of the state can be incrementally eroded or expanded, legally or otherwise, through the work of private actors—much to the benefit of expanding nations. It is a form of appropriation that differs rather dramatically from traditional seizures of territory, through war or colonial expansion.
Nowhere is Milton’s observation more true than in Singapore, where access to sand has become a matter of national security; it is the key currency in a new geopolitics of risk. The “Little Red Dot” has, since 1965, dilated from 224.5 to 276.5 square miles. The target of a 30 percent (or three square mile) increase of the country’s original land area has been set for 2030. Much of this city’s Central Business District, and its showpiece Gardens by the Bay, occupy what were the straits separating Singapore and Indonesia at the time of independence from Britain. Singapore’s sand works, geographical in scale, have exceeded even the figural archipelagos of Dubai’s trophy housing boom.
The island’s expansion has been a colossal undertaking. It is not merely a matter of coastal reclamation: Singapore is growing vertically as well as horizontally. This means that the nation’s market needs fine river sand—used for beaches and concrete—as well as coarse sea sand to create new ground. And the ground must be solid, as the lion’s share of Singapore’s architecture is high-rise. Foreign sand and aggregate, along with foreign labor, are essential in replicating the island’s ground in the sky. Both supply a burgeoning condo market and the ongoing rollout of a public housing program that serves more than 80 percent of the population.
For Singapore’s government, sand security is a safeguard of the state’s right to development. It is a precondition of fiscal and political survival. Sand, like money, must remain liquid for the economy to keep moving. The vulnerability of the island, its entropic tendency toward general decline, has long been imagined as a byproduct of its physical limits. The ruling People’s Action Party, which lays claim to the success of the housing initiative, has asserted time and again that the endurance of the nation depends upon a continual expansion of its market and its population. Both require Lebensraum. For this reason, sand and aggregate are stored in vast stockpiles in the areas of Seletar and Tampines, and are sold to contractors when regional disputes threaten the availability of the material. Paradoxically, the management of coastal risk comes to greatly affect the territory’s interior. The large tracts of land dedicated to storing sand and gravel aggregate become securitized sites—their area is taken “off the map.” The interior is leveraged such that the coast may grow.
The need for sand, then, is a kind of original debt: for the territorial state to survive, land must continually be introduced. Milton notes that .
6 miles of new ground requires 37.5 million cubic meters of fill—around 1.4 million dump trucks’ worth. This translates into a de facto transfer of territory from other countries. Despite the accepted terminology, earth cannot be “reclaimed” from the ocean by the magic of sovereign right; it needs to be brought from somewhere.
Unsurprisingly, this process of expansion has become a regional sore point—whetting old tensions between the island republic and its neighbors. The geopolitical narrative is that Singapore, in an undiscriminating fever of consumption, has begun to absorb surrounding territory. In a climate of heated diplomatic exchanges, fewer options for legal imports remain. Malaysia ceased shipments of sand to Singapore as early as 1997; Indonesia instituted a similar ban after claims that several of its Riau Islands had vanished, only to reappear as part of the Singapore coastline; and Vietnam suspended dredging in 2009. In turn, Myanmar and the Philippines have become principal sources. Cambodia also announced a freeze on river sand in 2009, but so much continued to disappear that locals joked of traveling to Singapore to plant the Cambodian flag.
Recently, nationalistic outrage has been joined by environmental concern, most pointedly the loss of fragile coastal habitat and sea-grass colonies. Many accusations allege ongoing smuggling from embargoed nations, as well as dredging at both seaside and river locations. Singapore, in keeping with its policy of transparency, has replied that it pursues its imports through lawful channels.
The island nation is hardly alone in its addiction. Sand has been called the “most wanted raw material on the planet.” Not only is it essential for construction, it is a key ingredient in the microprocessors and memory chips used in nearly all computer technology. Its legal trade is estimated at $70 billion per year. Environmental consultant Kiran Pereira figures the global annual sand consumption to be in excess of 15 billion tons.4 Even Dubai imports sand for construction, as do most other regions that build chiefly in concrete. Many of the nations that export sand to Singapore also require immense quantities for their own domestic projects. Diplomacy is thus burdened with negotiating the flow of sand, and territory, at multiple sites and scales.
To make matters more turbid, the nightmare of coastal reclamation occupies an imaginary and regulatory space created by several misunderstandings about territory itself. These become urgent against both the backdrop of our “oceanic” moment and the apparent dissolution of that idyll of 19th- and 20th-century geopolitical thought, the grounded state.
First among these misconceptions is that territory is a finite and intransigent thing. A longstanding myth of the state, propagated by realist and idealist schools of international relations alike, is the solidity of physical boundaries. In these traditions, the geo-body of the developed nation is thought to be, in the words of geographers John Agnew and Stuart Corbridge, a “set or fixed units of sovereign space.”5 Its peoples and economies were thought to be discrete and independent, its form and extents unchanging. Stranger still, cultures and countries were considered naturally isomorphic. At its conceptual extreme, this involved the conflation, on maps and in cartoons, of the shape of the nation with cultural icons or founding fathers. In Thailand, it was the person of the king, fending off rapacious foreigners. In Italy, it was Garibaldi with a sword. This ignored an untidy fact: that the form of the state has been highly fluid, its edges in particular. Since its invention, the borders of the global map have been continually redrawn. This is clearest, perhaps, in postcolonial contexts such as Singapore, where the reapportioning of territory, and the development of the coastline, had much to do with the play of regional geopolitical strategies.
The difficulty of sand likewise relies on a second error of territorial thought: the reified belief in the state as a unitary actor with sole control over its own space.That is, the state is mistaken for an object, rather than a web of processes. Part of the failure of diplomacy, here, is precisely that it occurs at the “official” level. In reality, the problem ramifies through the myriad actions of substate and supranational actors: dredgers, contractors, developers, ecological activists, overseas investors and property speculators, and politicians at every scale.
Accounts of sand trading, by journalists and advocates alike, articulate terrors arising from the apparent dissolution of national integrity. Milton, for one, relates claims of seedy exchanges between foreign and local elements throughout Southeast Asia. Likewise, a damning 2010 report by environmental watchdog Global Witness describes clandestine dredging of rivers and coastlines, and flotillas of tiny barges carrying stolen ground to undisclosed locations. Erosion, as the undermining of both natural and human ecologies, plays a key symbolic role—it is the geophysical analogue of the “haze,” an annual pollution crisis forced on Singapore and Malaysia by Indonesian slash-and-burn farming. As sociologist Ulrich Beck noted many years ago, these are influences that “add up to an unknown residual risk […] for everyone everywhere.” In the immediate wake of Chernobyl, Beck was quick to point out that the mobility of vectors such as wind-born radiation and pollution—not to mention the contagion of financial disasters—dramatically undermines the notion of an impervious sovereignty. National borders cannot repel such invasions, particularly when the very materiality of those borders is itself in flux.
The complexity of this issue is exemplified by Johor’s Forest City project, the latest episode in the Asian “sand wars.” Clearly, this is a situation in which conditions at a national boundary are changing—much to Singapore’s chagrin. But the controversy also shows how inchoate such works are with respect to the position of the state itself. The venture involves myriad actors, most of them above or below the level of formal governance. The investor, Country Garden Holdings, is a company majority-owned by China’s richest woman, Yang Huiyan. Country Garden’s minority partner is none other than the Sultan of Johor, a regional hereditary ruler. The contractors and sand suppliers are a constellation of private companies. The presumed buyers are global expatriates expected to migrate to Malaysia’s new Iskandar special economic zone, which is currently being built around the existing city of Johor Bahru. In particular, Forest City is positioned to cater to those priced out of Singapore’s condominium market, where high-rise prices rarely fall below 1,000 Singapore dollars per square foot. It is not quite clear who is realizing this new territory; it is almost certainly not “Malaysia” itself.
The challenge of sand is shifting and particular to each site. It articulates a nightmare both old and new: a
radically liberated state, free of stabilizing ideologies such as soil and ground
. Sand is an unstable and promiscuous alternative, quickly drained of historical and geographical traces. Perhaps it is telling that in Hebrew “sand” and “secular” are homonyms. It holds allegiances to no nation, no religion. Its form is transience. The fear goes: there is no more land; there is only sand.
So, if Wil and Matias can sell real estate, they get a commission, putting them closer to building or buying-into seasteading. The schmuck that pays, is stuck with something only the very rich can afford, and not seasteading…
All business which is in need of interference freedom ( which is basicly all business) will sooner or later end up to build its production and investigation sites out of interference reach on the ocean.
The more interferers appear in form of Politicians, redtaping groups, pressure groups, regulation groups, contrary interest groups, the more intense is the quest for a new frontier where things can be done and achived by default with nobody tortious interfering in the venture.
The move out on the ocean seeking interference freedom is already visible in its first steps | sandbank building | floating industies | oil | brewery | interference free server centers | stemcell research | etc…
The move out on the ocean and later into space is necessary to avoid that our civilization comes to a grinding halt of interference and sclerotic coding.