Zuzalu: a pop-up city with longevity at its heart

Ethereum founder’s mini city concept brings longevity together with discussions on crypto, network states and new cities.

Overlooking a picturesque bay on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, a longevity event with a difference has been quietly underway for several weeks now. The mysterious town of Zuzalu is billed as a “first-of-its-kind pop-up city community” – a two-month experiment that brings together a couple of hundred likeminded individuals with a common interest in living longer and healthier lives and building self-sustaining communities.

The brainchild of Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, Zuzalu is hosting a variety of events on topics like synthetic biology, technology for privacy, public goods, governance, and, of course, longevity. With several longevity tracks on its program, Zuzalu participants include Retro Biosciences founder Joe Betts-LaCroix, NUS professor Brian Kennedy, GERO co-founder Peter Fedichev and LEV Foundation’s Aubrey de Grey.

Longevity.Technology: From meditation sessions and Pilates classes to sunset beach “hangs” and dance parties, Zuzalu boasts a schedule of social events more akin to a music festival than your typical longevity conference. The idea is to create a learning community, where residents can attend scheduled sessions but may equally engage in useful discussions with anyone they encounter in the mini city. The longevity component of the Zuzalu experiment is supported by the longevity-focused decentralized organization VitaDAO. To learn more, we caught up with VitaDAO’s head of deal flow Laurence Ion.

“We’re learning together – bringing bright minds together, to see what happens from there,” says Ion. “It’s like a university campus with a 10% course load. Just walking around, you end up having these awesome conversations combining longevity, network states, crypto and so on. We’ve already done some hackathons – building open-source software that other people can build on.”

Next week, Zuzalu hosts a longevity biotech conference, where a host of speakers will cover subjects ranging from damage repair and rejuvenation to reproductive longevity and the limits of age reversal. But even this is being handled slightly differently at Zuzalu.

“There are a lot of people who are not very familiar with longevity biotech,” says Ion. “So, over a few days before the conference, we are offering a crash course in longevity that will bring them up to speed and hopefully allow them to get more from the conference.”

Longevity and the ‘network state’

One of the topics under discussion at Zuzalu is the concept of the “network state.” The term, coined by tech entrepreneur and investor Balaji Srinivasan, describes highly aligned online communities with a capacity for collective action that eventually crowdfund their own territory and gain diplomatic recognition from pre-existing nation states. It’s a concept that VitaDAO can relate to.

“We’ve been successful in funding 17+ projects with more than $4 million deployed in under two years,” says Ion. “So far we’ve basically built a network union – it’s all online and doing things together as a community, in a better, more scalable way than the traditional way of creating startups. It’s not certain that we’re going to become a ‘network state’ per se, but it’s interesting to learn what the physical aspect might look like.”

The Zuzalu experiment is, in some ways, an opportunity to test some of the ideas behind the network state on a small scale.

“For example, we are addressing things like citizen privacy,” says Ion. “We have a digital passport that allows us to access events and answer polls in complete anonymity.”

The experimental passport uses “zero-knowledge proofs” to prove someone is a “resident” of Zuzalu, without revealing who they are.

Health and longevity at Zuzalu

VitaDAO is behind most of the health and longevity aspects of Zuzalu.

“We’ve been supporting healthy co-living – like having a restaurant with a healthy food menu, having accountability partners, working out together, doing cold plunges, and so on,” says Ion. “We’re also tracking biomarkers, like continuous glucose monitoring, biological age tests, and blood tests that also calculate phenotypic age.”

While these health experiments will not yield statistically significant results yet, Ion points out that it is still interesting to see how differences in what you eat and how you exercise can change biomarkers – even in just a few hundred people living together.

“Imagine if this was a permanent thing and being done across thousands of people instead of hundreds, enabling decentralized clinical trials?” he says.

The Zuzalu experiment continues until the 25th of May. Our Editor in Chief will be heading out to Montenegro next week – stay tuned for more on this fascinating project.

Photograph: Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock