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Metamorphosis Commenced: Network States v0.01by@xenofon
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Metamorphosis Commenced: Network States v0.01

by Xenofon May 12th, 2024
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Introduction and comparison of ZuConnect, Vitalia and muBuenos. Also an analysis of how Pop-up Cities are transforming into Network States.
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When most people think of a pop-up city, they think of Burning Man. In fact, up until recently, "pop-up cities'' referred to temporary or semi-permanent “semi-urban” developments that emerged in response to various social, economic, or environmental factors.


A few examples:


  1. Disaster Relief and Refugee Camps: After natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, or conflicts or humanitarian crises, temporary settlements and camps can be established to provide shelter, food, and medical aid to displaced populations.
  2. Festival and Event Spaces: During large events such as music festivals, sports tournaments, or cultural gatherings, temporary infrastructure like tents, stages, and food stalls can create a Pop-up city atmosphere, accommodating thousands of people for a short duration.
  3. Temporary Urban Installations: Some jurisdictions create Pop-up urban installations to revitalize underutilized spaces or promote cultural events. These installations might include art exhibitions, outdoor markets, or performance spaces.


Ultimately, Pop-up cities are characterized by their temporary nature, flexibility, and adaptability to changing circumstances. These cities serve as an important solution for immediate relief or meeting short-term needs in rapidly evolving situations. While past pop-up cities are useful, there’s a new type of pop-up city that promises to have a massive impact on the future -- everything from how we innovate, coordinate, cooperate, and envision how the future can look.

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It all started in Montenegro. March 25th, 2023. For three months, an eclectic group of innovators, builders, thinkers, and visionaries gathered together in a seaside village in rural Montenegro for a new type of pop-up city called Zuzalu. The vision, as laid out by Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum and the mastermind behind Zuzalu, was to combine the serendipitous encounters of conferences, the technical focus and long-term timespan of hacker houses, and the emergent bottom-up ethos of Web3. In his own words:


“By 2022, I had been thinking about many of these topics for a while. I read and reviewed Balaji Srinivasan’s book on Network States, wrote posts about what a crypto city might look like, and explored issues of governance in the context of blockchain-native digital constructs like DAOs. But the discussion seemed like it was remaining too theoretical for too long, and the time seemed ripe for a more practical experiment. And so came the idea for Zuzalu.


This hits a sweet spot: it’s ambitious enough and different enough from what has already been repeated ad nauseam that we actually learn something, but still light enough that it’s logistically manageable. And it also intentionally does not center any specific vision about how something like this should be done, whether Balaji’s or otherwise”


Zuzalu revealed the power of pop-up cities in creating lasting global communities with a shared vision. Since other Zuzalu-inspired pop-up cities have emerged, and many more are being organized, serving as “testnets” for the creation of permanent and physical communities. Thus far in 2024, your author has personally attended Vitalia in February and muBuenos in April.


Vitalia, originally planned for 2 months, first expanded to three months, then four, and now onto a year-long happening which aims to quickly establish a permanent basis of citizens -- and, they are succeeding! Many pop-up cities prefer to keep the long-term vision emergent, allowing new ideas to fill in the blanks from the bottom up. But one guiding light, as Buterin mentioned, is the Network State, conceived by Balaji Srinivasan.

What Is a Network State?

A network state, according to Srinivasan, is a digital nation built around a shared vision, guided by a recognized leader, empowered by its own cryptocurrency, united by a strong sense of collective identity, and driven by the ambition to acquire crowdfunded sovereign land.


  1. Community Choice: Network States, by nature, are not possessive. Citizens can choose to exit these systems and migrate to other, competitive Network States if they so choose. Alignment with the governance practices and culture of these Network Societies is a key facilitator in the creation of happy and dedicated community members and citizens.
  2. Borderless Nature: At present, the Network States and their communities, due to their digital-first, nomadic nature, transcend traditional geopolitical boundaries, allowing participants from around the world to engage and collaborate without being constrained by national jurisdictions. This borderless nature can promote depth, global cooperation, and the exchange of ideas and resources.
  3. Interest-tailored, Lifestyle-tailored: Network States seem to evolve over a certain niche interest, where the individuals invested in these niches and interests benefit immensely by participating in the formation of a physical extension of their Network State. Vitalia is a perfect example of such a Pop-up City, hence its rapid metamorphosis into a more permanent settlement within Prospera and Roatan, Honduras.


Overall, Network States represent a vision of governance and social organization that leverages the power of digital networks and technology to create more integrated, transparent, and adaptive systems for the future. And Pop-up cities, interestingly, represent month-long demos of how these visions of future governance can emerge in the decades to come.

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Pop-up Cities and Network States are intertwined. Yet, not all Pop-Up Cities are equal. As someone who was lucky to be in three Pop-up cities over the past few months, in this section, I will try to expand upon the similarities and differences between muBuenos, Vitalia, and ZuConnect. (Unfortunately, I was not in Zuzalu - any community input on how Zuzalu was different and, perhaps, more special is highly welcomed.)


The criteria I will use for the below comparison come from Noah Chong’s post on Zuzagora titled “What is a Zuzalu Style Event?” In the article, Noah lists the below characteristics as integral to a Zuzalu-like Pop-up city. I will list and rate each city in accordance with these attributes.


  • Coliving & Coworking
  • Curation of Citizens
  • Co-created, co-owned Agenda
  • Power and Alignment of Mission


Coliving & Coworking:


As a general rule, a Pop-up City should maintain around 150 active, intermediate-term residents working on the city's agenda. A large, quiet co-working space and shared town hall facilitate constant connections and discussions. Proper lifestyle and health infrastructure should support citizens' dietary and physical needs.


Coliving is crucial, with citizens forming "group houses" of 2-10 housemates with similar interests. Coworking and coliving generate serendipity and productivity, essential for a potential Network State hub. This is one process that needs additional support. I am personally working on providing the needed infrastructure for furthering all co-living options. (Hint: ZuForever)


Citizen Curation:

At Zuzalu, 8 core organizers each invited around 15 residents, who could each invite 2 guests. Additional residents were selected through an application process and by track leads. Guests could extend their stay by paying weekly but without guaranteed accommodation like residents. Similarly, early Pop-up Cities must carefully curate attendees to foster strong relationships and bonds that will incentivize the formation of the first Network States. This is crucial in the coming years, as these efforts will shape public perception.


However, a successful Network State must ultimately be both resilient to external influence and open to all relevant potential citizens who meet the criteria set by these emerging Network Societies.


Co-created, co-owned schedule

Accepted participants gain access to a shared calendar to post events. Weekdays are open for co-created schedules, while weekends are reserved for organizers to plan formal presentations, panels, and talks.


Thriving Pop-up Cities should offer an "un-campus" experience where participants can freely switch between teaching and learning roles. Community-organized events can span technical workshops, research presentations, healthy activities like hikes and cold plunges, and social gatherings such as tea ceremonies or Blockravers parties.


Power and Alignment of Mission

A Pop-up City's mission, vision, and values are the most critical driving forces behind its community. Lack of clarity on these aspects leads to an unfocused and disengaged community. Aligning the Pop-up City's mission with its activities, design, and production is crucial for success.

Strategic location plays a key role in enhancing a Pop-up City's mission.


For example, Vitalia's placement within a Special Economic Zone like Prospera directly supports its mission, while muBuenos strategically positions itself in locations with a strong presence of dedicated Web3 developers and builders.


As said, I will use each to introduce, analyze, and rate the Pop-up Cities I personally attended—muBuenos, Vitalia, and ZuConnect.

Let’s start with ZuConnect:

Category

Rating (1-10)

Coliving & Coworking

7

Curation of Citizens

10

Co-created, co-owned Agenda

3

Power and Alignment of Mission

5

Total Score: 25/40


Constantinople holds a special place in my heart. The 2-week ZuConnect in October 2023 was life-changing. The people, food, low cost of living, locations, and discussions were fascinating. People stayed, worked, partied, and dined together. The constant arrival of new members ahead of DevConnect enhanced the experience.


However, there were drawbacks. Internal conflicts pushed Vitalik to decentralize Zuzalu's future in late 2023. The tension between core participants was evident, causing confusion about Zuzalu's nature, ZuConnect's goals, and the movement's long-term future. The agenda was primarily controlled by ZuConnect organizers and track leads due to the limited two-week timeframe. Nevertheless, community-driven items did occur.


Despite the rating above, ZuConnect was my best Pop-up experience so far. I only wish it had less tension between valuable community members and lasted longer than two weeks.


Vitalia:

Category

Rating (1-10)

Coliving & Coworking

4

Curation of Citizens

9

Co-created, co-owned Agenda

6

Power and Alignment of Mission

10

Total Score: 29/40


Vitalia, which started in January 2024 and is ongoing, takes place in Roatan, an island off the coast of Honduras that hosts the Prospera ZEDE. Vitalia's mission to eliminate death and aging aligns perfectly with Prospera's goal of unlocking entrepreneurial potential through effective legal and institutional infrastructure.


This collaboration provides legal clarity for innovators working on the cutting edge of biotechnology, health science, and medical science, enabling rapid medical trials, drug development, and niche bodily experimentation.


The extended timeframe of Vitalia allowed for extensive community participation in creating non-conference activities, although this sometimes led to conflicts with citizens negatively affected by social events. Conference tracks were managed more successfully by designated topic leads.


However, Vitalia faced challenges with coliving and coworking infrastructure. Roatan is expensive, with costs rivaling the US, yet amenities like gyms and food options were lacking. Mosquitoes, sandflies, and transportation issues made life difficult. The high accommodation costs, averaging over $2,000 per month for a shared space, were a significant drawback that prevented some from staying longer.


Despite these challenges, Vitalia seems well-positioned for the DeSci and biotech niche they have built upon. Their continued operations signal effective Pop-up City design, earning them the highest rating among the Pop-up cities I've attended. Prospera may even become host to the first fully-fledged Network State.


muBuenos:

Category

Rating (1-10)

Coliving & Coworking

7

Curation of Citizens

9

Co-created, co-owned Agenda

4

Power and Alignment of Mission

8

Total Score: 28/40


muBuenos took place in Buenos Aires during March and April 2024. I attended for the entire month of April, and it became one of the most impactful events for my personal goals and aspirations. The mu team has demonstrated their ability to build focused and dedicated communities that repeatedly produce value for the broader crypto-asset ecosystem, as evidenced by their previous Pop-up City, muChang Mai in Thailand, and the return of many past attendees to muBuenos.


The mu's clear focus on crypto and development brought together some of the most effective builders in the global crypto-asset ecosystem for 6 weeks, many of whom are based in Argentina. The country is arguably the most ripe jurisdiction for crypto-asset adoption, with over 10% of the population having used crypto-assets in their daily lives, years of economic uncertainty, and multiple successful projects originating from Argentinian builders.


The muCoworking space in the heart of Buenos Aires' Palermo neighborhood was ideally suited for collaboration, with multiple rooms, desks, whiteboards, and nearby amenities. However, co-living was limited to self-organized options, and the strength of the local ecosystem led to a less international identity. The high quality of local builders and talents, though, outweighed the drawbacks of an international minority.


The mu's agenda was open, as desired for a Zuzalu-inspired event, but the lack of structure and commitment to some proposed events created friction. This highlights how early we are in the Pop-up City timeline and how the principles we aspire to live by may not always be the best-suited processes for day-to-day operations.


All three Pop-up Cities were extremely successful and fantastic opportunities, but there are common limitations that must be addressed for the future success and manifestation of permanent Network States.


Firstly, immigration support for community members from outside the EU and the USA needs improvement. Many builders were blocked at the border or never had their visas granted. A unified front on supporting travel logistics and visa approvals is crucial for all Pop-up Cities.


Secondly, as Pop-up Cities evolve into permanent Network States and innovation hubs, logistical operations must improve to meet citizens' lifestyle expectations. This includes new trade lines, technical and health infrastructure, and even an "Amazon for Pop-up Cities."


Lastly, the cost of attending and experiencing these Pop-up Cities must become more attainable for the average person. Scholarships or permanent solutions should be explored to address the expensive membership fees, airfare, and accommodation costs.


Once these hurdles are overcome, the Pop-up City movement will continue to grow as a social proof of a better future. And I've seen visions of this growth - our "Crecimiento."


During the last week of muBuenos, I witnessed the emergence of Operacion Crecimiento, a new movement aiming to kickstart a temporary Pop-up City in August, followed by a permanent Social Economic Zone focused on the long-term growth and adoption of on-chain decentralized applications in Argentina. Crecimiento's noble goal is to prove how emerging technologies can transform a society for the better, and there's no better place or time for such activities than Milei's weathered and troubled Argentina.


Supported by Protocol Labs, mu, the Milei government, and many others, Crecimiento provides a clear roadmap of how a Pop-up City's impact can lead to the emergence of a true, permanent Network State. As a fan of Argentina, Pop-up Cities, and Network States, I'm excited to see how the world embraces this new paradigm, knowing that the line of Network State dominos is being built one Pop-up City at a time.

The future is bright, decentralized, and being built one pop-up city at a time.


This article is written by Xenofon Kontouris and in collaboration with Christopher Campbell. Chris and Xenofon are co-authors of an upcoming guide to Pop-Up Cities and Cosmolocalism.

In their work, Xenofon and Chris have interviewed Pop-up City founders, organizers, and attendees. All of the content will facilitate the creation of an Open Guide to Cosmolocalism, and uncut, early access to interview content is available to core backers and supporters of the book and movement.

To follow up on all related works and contribute your experience, pleasefill out the below simple Google Form, or contact Xenofon Kontouris directly.


Additional Information:


*To this day, the community Zuzalu established maintains important connections and conversations even today, primarily through a dedicated forum named Zuzagora and through dedicated Telegram chats.


**Following Zuzalu in Montenegro, another Zu event took place; something akin to a short-term spinoff that took place in November 2023 for two weeks, right before DevConnect in Istanbul. ZuConnect, as it was called, created the basis of the last few months, when, in an effort to decentralize and expand the impact of Zuzalu, Vitalik set up a Quadratic Funding round and enabled a swarm of new Pop-up cities to take place in 2024; all in the model produced in Montenegro.


***The mu team is also very active, with muAccra taking place in June in Ghana, while a permanent muHub in Buenos Aires is being considered (alongside another interesting development, which I will expand upon later in the article).


Many other cities are also about to launch:

  • In May and June, Zanzulu takes place in Zanzibar. Alongside this, Edge Esmeralda is taking place in California, and ZuBerlin in, well, Berlin.


  • ZuVillage Georgia follows right after, in July, while August will see ZuLead take place in Switzerland.


  • September is equally busy, with Digitalia taking place in Rome and Edge Thailand starting in late September til DevCon in November.


This calendar by Social Layer (sola) does a good job listing these upcoming events, although a lot more are in the works for late 2024 and 2025. (Apologies to any Pop-ups that are not mentioned here). In addition, the Network State Forums also did a great job listing upcoming Zuzalu-like Pop-Up Cities here.