On a tiny piece of land between Croatia and Serbia—a disputed territory that doesn't clearly belong to either country—a group of libertarians is hoping to build a micronation—very obviously dubbed Free Republic of Liberland—a country they self-proclaimed into existence in 2015.
A new design shows how the city-state might look. To save space (the whole country is only three square miles) but allow the city to grow, neighborhoods are stacked in layers.
"I envisioned an intimate-scale city," says Raya Ani, director of RAW-NYC, the architecture firm that created the winning design in response to a competition hosted by Liberland. Rather than build massive skyscrapers to house the 400,000 people who hope to live in the new city, each layer includes smaller, densely arranged buildings that allow sunlight to reach the street.
The underside of each platform is covered with algae—a genetically engineered version that doesn't require sunlight to grow, and that can be converted into power. "The horizontal surface layer seemed to be the perfect home to grow algae that could power the city," she says.
The design also includes solar power, and a waste-to-energy system that converts any organic waste to biogas for cooking. Other trash is incinerated to create electricity.
In the design, the neighborhoods are clustered around transit, with libraries, sports arenas, and other public areas no more than a 10-minute walk from public transit. The city is also covered with bike and pedestrian paths—with zero cars.
"It's a very walkable city where you could reach any point at a reasonable time whether you use the train or you walk," says Ani.
The buildings would also be covered with green walls and roofs to reduce rainwater runoff, and to keep temperatures cooler in heat waves. Along the edges of the city, since the area is a flood plain, parks are designed for occasional floods.
"It was always our plan to keep Liberland as green as possible," says Vít Jedlička, the Czech politician who created the micronation and calls himself the president. "The area around our country is also a nature reserve that goes 66 kilometers along the Danube. The first-place design ensures we can minimize pollution while using renewable energy to keep the land intact."
The design team also included non-designers, such as economists, to think about other aspects of how the city would function. They propose that Liberland would have three economic hubs—sustainability, media, and technology—and promote entrepreneurship through a national crowdfunding site.
"I wanted to make sure what we are proposing makes economic sense," says Ani. "I'm talking about large-scale thinking. What kind of economies Liberland could benefit from, how it could survive and thrive, how it could help the neighboring countries, how we could accommodate the number of people interested in living and working in Liberland."
Though 400,000 people have signed up online saying they want to live in Liberland, they'll have to wait. The founders plan to establish their first settlements on the Danube River using boathouses, and then plan to begin the process of selling shares of land through an online marketplace, letting shareholders vote on the final development through a collective voting system (assuming—and this is a big assumption—that Croatia and Serbia cede their claims on the land).
Ani says that even if the design isn't implemented exactly as she envisioned, it could happen on a smaller scale, for example, with a single building powered by algae. "Our vision is clearly a large and ambitious one," she says. "However, I always believe in looking toward the future as it usually takes a long time for these to be mainstream and commercially used. There is so much we are missing because of that lag between what can be done and what gets implemented."
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