Stefan Hübner: From Tokyo Bay to Climate Change – Why Industrial Oceanic Urbanization Has Boomed, Busted and Resurfaced since the 1970s

Climate change and rising sea levels will have a substantial impact on urbanization. Since the second half of the 20th century, the resource hunger of megacities has extended the urban fabric to the oceans, resulting in their industrialization and infrastructuralization. Particularly, industrial oceanic energy production (offshore oil and gas drilling, floating wind parks and floating solar panels) and industrial oceanic agriculture (fish and seaweed farming) have strongly increased and diversified ocean economies once characterized mainly by hunting and gathering in the form of fishing. Even more, supported by climate change marketing, industrial urbanization is slowly moving offshore through floating houses, coastal city infrastructures, and floating city prototypes. This article focuses on oceanic industrial urbanization projects in the Pacific region during the 1970s and today. It addresses the question of why a group of Japanese and American academic, political and economic elites – in particular Kiyonori Kikutake and John P. Craven – designed and tested two floating city prototypes in the Pacific region (Hawaii and Okinawa) during the 1970s, but eventually had to abandon them. The article also analyses why marketing for industrial oceanic urbanization projects has reemerged since a decade ago. In the process, the article investigates continuities and discontinuities between the 1970s, characterized by late high modernist social engineering and resource extraction, and the present situation in the Pacific region, shaped by climate change considerations due to the threat of rising sea levels and libertarian ideology aimed at reterritorializing parts of the Pacific through special economic zones.

Stefan Hübner

Stefan Hübner is a historian interested in colonialism, modernization, and development policy. Currently, he is a research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute and (in 2019) a U.S. SSRC Transregional Research Fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center. In spring 2018, he was a Fulbright scholar at the Harvard University Asia Center. Previous fellowships and scholarships were awarded by the Wilson Center, the German Historical Institute Washington, DC, the German Institute for Japanese Studies Tokyo, and Harvard University’s Center for European Studies. His second book project addresses the global history of oceanic colonization projects since the early 20th century, where he focuses on the impact of industrial oceanic energy production (offshore oil drilling, etc.), industrial oceanic agriculture (fish and seaweed farming, etc.), and industrial oceanic urbanization (floating extensions to onshore cities, floating city prototypes) on the territorialization and environmental transformation of the ocean. He received his PhD from Jacobs University Bremen (Germany) in 2015. His first book—Pan-Asian Sports and the Emergence of Modern Asia, 1913-1974—was published in 2016 and a Japanese translation was released in 2017.


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