Nieuw Amsterdam

A set of static orbital rings around the gas giant Bronx in the New Brooklyn System

Nieuw Amsterdam
Image from Steve Bowers
The lower deck, Downtown, is suspended by thousands of cables from geostationary orbit. A second ring, The Heights, extends outwards to balance this deck.

Nieuw Amsterdam is the first complete static orbital ring in Terragen space, finished in 2753 AT and occupied continuously since then. It encircles the gas giant Bronx in the New Brooklyn system, 51 light-years from Earth.

This static orbital ring system started as a collection of gas scoops for mining helium-3 from Bronx. Due to a bursting speculative bubble on helium-3 and a rush of uploaded colonists into physical bodies, it was easier to continue manufacturing the skyhook gas scoops and their habitation platforms than to shift to a new style of habitat. A growing population drove the platforms to extend themselves until they formed ring-arcs. The crowded equatorial belt of the 2600s and frequent near-misses led the New Brooklyn republic to fund the complete ring. The arc-cities that could be joined together were; the others were stripped for materials and mass. The project ran 112 years, slowed by legal and political battles between the the republic and arc-cities and wealthy independent skyhook owners. After a delay of a few days to reach a date historically relevant to New Brooklyn, a ceremonial golden spike nominally nailed together the nano-extruded and -joined ends of Nieuw Amsterdam on July 4, 2753AT.

As a sidenote, there is a persistent rumor that Metropolis Ring City took its inspiration from Nieuw Amsterdam. The only statements from E Who Dreams of Urban Cloudscapes about Nieuw Amsterdam, made while gathering support for the Ring City, were in the form of Voluntary Message Authentification between emself and another third transapient. The nuanced transapient thoughts translate poorly into modosophont languages, with different attempts generating different answers.

Bronx Static rings
Image from Steve Bowers
The inner ring is only 265km above the clouds, while the outer ring is 75,600km from the planet's core.


As a static orbital ring, Nieuw Amsterdam lacks the mass streams of dynamic orbital rings. Instead, it could be considered a continuous ring of space elevators, forming a spoked ring around the planet. Like some orbital elevator systems it has orbital rings, but not at the zero-G center of mass of the elevators. Instead, a static orbital ring carries two rings: one much closer to the planet than its center of mass, and a counterbalance ring much further from the planet than the center of mass. The lower ring thus orbits the planet more slowly than the center of mass, and accordingly experiences some gravity only partially balanced by the centripetal force of its spin. The upper ring, meanwhile, rotates faster than the center of mass and thus experiences outward centripetal force only partially balanced by gravity.

In the case of Nieuw Amsterdam, its low ring ("Downtown") skims 265 kilometers above Bronx's clouds, or 38,500 kilometers from the gas giant's core. Some of the old gas scoops that the rings grew from droop lower to collect reaction mass for the rings' reaction control motors. The high ring ("The Heights") is 75,600 kilometers from Bronx's core, putting the center of mass - and zero-G spaceport facilities - at 51,200 kilometers from Bronx's core. The entire static ring orbits Bronx in just over four hours, giving Downtown 1G toward Bronx and The Heights 1G toward space.

Bronx's collection of chondrite moons have mostly been consumed by the rings' construction. A single, 100-kilometer rubble pile ("Junkyard") of collected planetary ring and moon material now orbits Bronx at 120,000 kilometers. It only imposes trivial tidal loads on the rings, far smaller than New Brooklyn.


Both rings attempt to minimize stress within the limits of modosophont materials. With four multi-cable pandifico-and-nanotube tethers abreast every 5.04 kilometers along Downtown's circumference (spreading to every ten kilometers along The Heights), the stresses of supporting Downtown and The Heights are well-addressed. It should also be noted that each section of Nieuw Amsterdam - or any static orbital ring - is self-supporting. Severing the rings is a disaster in the area of the break(s), but not something completely destructive to the entire structure.

There are 192,000 primary tethers in 48,000 sets of four. The tethers are enormous electrical conductors that may interact with Bronx's powerful magnetic field to help smooth vibrations and tidal effects that would otherwise excessively flex the rings, while conversion reaction control motors fueled with Bronx’s hydrogen provide further stability. Additionally, there are massive, sliding weights on the tethers to provide fast response to significant mass shifts (e.g., weather patterns), while ballast tanks inside the rings provide longer-term adjustments. Interestingly, the rings do not require balancing around their circumference so one side of the rings may be much more massive than the rings on the opposite side of the planet. Rather, they require balancing between The Heights and Downtown to avoid shifting the center of mass. In cases of very heavy local loads, supplementary ("secondary") tethers are used to support the decks. Urban areas may have sets of secondary tethers every kilometer.

Each ring consists of a 5000-meter deep truss with decks on top and bottom. The “interior” decks of the rings (i.e., the Downtown deck facing The Heights, and The Heights deck facing Downtown) are tented in half-cylinders of transparent diamondoid / sapphiroid that are five kilometers in diameter. These are dubbed “lanes” by locals and provide open-air environments atop the interior decks where buildings do not require separate pressurization. Downtown has 10 lanes while The Heights has five. These lanes are divided by bulkheads every 5.04 kilometers (Downtown) or 10.08 kilometers (The Heights). The bulkheads are placed away from the tethers to avoid a calamity destroying both together. In normal conditions, the pandifico of the bulkheads is rolled up like drapes to produce 5-kilometer open archways that only close in emergencies, typically preceded by fast-deploying airwalls until the heavier pandifico may close the gap. This allows easy travel and airflow across bulkheads.


The combination of Nieuw Amsterdam’s orbit around Bronx’s equator, plus the bulkheads, lanes, and decks leads to local geographic conventions. Lanes are numbered from 1 to 10 (Downtown), where Lane 1 is the furthest north of Bronx’s equator and Lane 10 is furthest south. The Heights uses a similar convention for its five lanes. A strip of lanes between two bulkheads is a “block,” numbered from 1 to 48,000 around each ring, with Block 1 being an arbitrary starting position occupied by government buildings. A group of 3 adjacent blocks is sometimes called a "sector," a term used almost exclusively for subway systems. As noted above, the rings’ decks that face each other are the “interior” decks of Nieuw Amsterdam, while the other decks (facing Bronx for Downtown and deep space for The Heights) are predictably the “exterior” decks. The volume inside each ring’s truss is referred to as “The Subway” or, less formally, “The Bowels.” Exterior decks and the Subways use the Lane/Block numbering of the corresponding interior deck.


While the interior decks of both rings are provided open-air environments in their semi-cylindrical Lanes, the exterior decks and Subways are open to space. Human-habitable structures on/in them are individually pressurized. The Subways are filled with endless conglomerations of cylinders, spheres, and tubes, like an early Spaceflight Era space station on an enormous scale. The contents of the Subways are hidden behind vast, 2500-meter tall radiator panels for life support and power systems. The exterior decks, meanwhile, host “starscrapers” dangling into space. Downtown’s exterior deck is particularly hot real estate because a starscraper dangling from that exterior deck is just a few hundred kilometers above the vast Bronx cloudscape. Some starscrapers may be enormous, continuous structures that pierce both decks of a ring, but - despite similarity to the term “skyscraper” - starscrapers may be as small as single-floor homes. The exterior deck of The Heights is much less valuable real estate and thus has little need for large starscrapers.

Amidst the massive framework, the structures within the Subways are mostly functional. Each lane and block has independent utility systems (conversion reactors, blue goo, life support, food vats, etc.), producing a massively redundant structure. A small number of individuals prefer to reside in the Bowels.

The zero-G altitude band is rather under-developed. There are twelve “major” zero-G spaceports located equidistantly around the ring (starting at block one). These ports are capable of handling ships of up to several kilometers long and millions passengers annually, and include features to handle the unique effects of reactionless drive vessels. In practice, only the “Cardinal Four” (at blocks 1, 12,000, 24,000, and 36,000) are heavily utilized. The other ports see light traffic, mostly small, private flights interested in avoiding the Cardinal Four or slightly faster access to their home block. (Extensive automation makes the non-cardinal ports inexpensive to maintain.) The zero-G band is also littered with industrial and recreational facilities, but this band is incomplete because most heavy industrial work is kept safely away from Nieuw Amsterdam while most consumer goods may be built in home or neighborhood nanofabs. For the past two centuries, there has been a movement to convert the free fall band into some habitable park akin to a miniature Niven Ring but there is insufficient interest from the public to justify it.


Transport between The Heights and Downtown is primarily supplied by orbital elevator systems running through the center of primary tethers. (Each tether is, in fact, a cluster of redundant cables.) The mammoth balance weights are on the exterior of the tethers. These tether elevators are similar to orbital elevator trains found throughout Terragen space and run at up to 2000 kilometers per hour, making a trip between rings about 19 hours (or 20, if there is a layover at a zero-G facility).

Found in the Subways are, well, subways. Downtown and The Heights both have three-tier transit systems, with tiers applying to different distances and speeds. The first tier subway is a local pressurized train network that will make several stops in each lane within a block and to immediate neighboring blocks. The number of first tier trains and stops within a three-block group depends on the population and level of development in those three blocks. Given the localization of New Brooklyn modosophonts and the availability of high-quality virch telecommuting, the first tier subways are busiest. The second tier set of trains again uses pressurized tunnels, but serves as "express trains" in a group of 60 blocks, connecting these 20 sectors at a single point in each sector. The third tier subways use vacuum trains that run at very high speeds (16,700m/s in Downtown, 32,824m/s in The Heights) around the rings in near-free fall conditions between launches. The third tier trains only run in one direction: against the orbit of the rings. This puts the furthest point in the rings no more than 2 hours away, though the unidirectional flow of the third tier means that some up-orbit locations are further away. Also, average third tier speeds are about a third the possible peak speed due to traffic and stops, making a trip to the far side of the ring about 6 hours unless one of the infrequent express trains are used.

For the wealthy, conversion- and displacement-drive vessels make even shorter flights but the ultimate limit is Bronx, which fills the center of Nieuw Amsterdam. Relatively comfortable 2-3G flights put the furthest points of the rings about two hours away. While conversion-drive "taxis" are more common than displacement drives, they are also far more dangerous and go through uncomfortable maneuvers to keep their exhaust aimed away from the rings.

On the interior decks, there are several additional options for transport. The high population density and careful urban planning make walking effective and popular within a block; slidewalks and river roads are eschewed as a matter of aesthetics and to make room for ground cars on conventional roads. Bicycles are also popular on surface roads, especially nanotech folding bicycles that fit easily on subways. Ground cars (often electrical and powered by induction coils in roads) give timely private and chartered transport over several blocks, while offering low-cost, long-range transport. There is an elevated, limited access highway network around the interior decks of both rings for ground cars interested in long-range travel. Many residents like to circumnavigate one of the rings at least once in their lives, either "toughing it" in conventional ground cars or "touring it" in larger vehicles with habitat and autopilot features (sometimes called, "recreational vehicles.") Aircars and other aircraft provide more expedient, expensive transport over short ranges, though bans on supersonic sonic flight means they have cannot compete with third-tier subways. Chartered groundcar and aircar service is supplied by a government-protected monopoly known as the "Yellow Cab" company.

Inside Nieuw Amsterdam
Image from Steve Bowers
Inside one of the ten tubes that make up the Downtown deck


Both interior decks maintain Earth-normal environments within their lanes, generally but not always favoring cooler temperatures (10-20C) and damper conditions to provide some margin against overheating and freezing if climate control systems fail. Temperature control is supplied by a complicated interaction of resident activities, solar illumination, altering the reflectivity of the lanes' diamondoid / sapphiroid walls, and heating or cooling in air filtration systems. Buildings, lakes, and ponds serve as thermal masses to stabilize temperatures against sudden changes.

The photoactive layers in lane walls partly supply the day/night cycles of Nieuw Amsterdam. With a 4-hour orbit, a 24-hour day is fairly easy to accommodate. Each orbital period only experiences approximately 3 hours of sunlight, leaving 1 hour or less eclipsed by Bronx. During the daytime periods eclipsed by Bronx, lanes use solar-spectrum luminaires at their peaks to maintain lighting. The combination of lighting by New Brooklyn and luminaires gives 12 hours of light but shadows move swiftly through the 4-hour orbit, and then switch with jarring rapidity to overhead artificial lights, and then back to natural illumination from a different angle. Night is a simple matter of rendering lane walls opaque, though they are typically turned transparent while in Bronx's umbra. The opacity is one way because 12-hour night cycles provide an opportunity to radiatively cool the interior decks. Prior to Nieuw Amsterdam's completion, some platforms had attempted to use more natural lighting cycles and shadows, but it was found that inhabitants had grown used to the fast-moving shadows and used them as sundials to gauge the passage of the day. Finally, the rings are not divided into time zones - they experience simultaneous nights and days, though different parts of the ring may be transparent or artificially lit depending on their position around Bronx.

More selective lighting control through the lane walls drives large-scale winds.

Clouds and fog form throughout lanes but unplanned precipitation is less common. Precipitation is generated in the blocks with larger amounts of open water, or more often by deliberately humidifying the atmosphere via the air handling system and then dropping the temperature. Generally, this means it rains early at night. For winter holidays, the temperature may be lowered enough to generate some snow. Supplementary weather machines may be used to disperse additional moisture, while selective darkening and brightening of the lane walls can encourage or discourage precipitation.

Nieuw Amsterdam has relatively limited radiation shielding. The lane walls and decks are enormously strong, but only thick enough to halt low-energy particles, like the protons and alpha particles of New Brooklyn's solar wind. Cosmic rays, on the other hand, easily penetrate the interior. Like many thin-walled habitats throughout terragen space, the inhabitants of the ring are simply expected to have higher radiation resistance than baseline humans. There are additional shielding precautions, though. The entire structure of the static orbital ring long since emptied Bronx's radiation belts of charged particles and keeps the belts depleted, and Downtown is well-protected by Bronx's magnetic field. The low shielding has been a liability twice, though, when two of Little Brooklyn's wormholes were destroyed during the First Consolidation War. The gamma ray flashes severely stressed New Brooklyn's medical community, though there were few permanent deaths.


Nieuw Amsterdam has 20 billion residents and about 24 million square kilometers of deck surface, putting its average population density at more than 800 people per square kilometer. The distribution is uneven, though, due to urban planning that attempts to reserve space for parks and rural areas. Over the eight millennia of occupation, the population has been concentrated in four cardinal locations (centered on blocks 1, 12,000, 24,000, and 36,000), producing urban districts each about 2000 blocks long with population densities exceeding 4000 per square kilometer in these regions. Some metropolitan cores have higher populations, of course, and the proliferation of starscrapers on exterior decks leaves the "cardinal cities" less densely built-up than a comparable city on a planetary surface. Most residents living on a basic stipend are able to afford homes of hundreds of square meters.

The cardinal cities on Downtown are Stuyvesant, Greenwich, Soho, and Flatiron, while the matching cities in The Heights are Verhulst, Chelsea, Bowery, and Tudor. Except for Stuyvesant, they have no overriding theme to their architectures, which are a mix of buildings built over millennia of population growth and architectural styles. The cities are relatively attractive; the buildings that survive centuries of constant urban renewal and change are those popular for their function or appearance. Flatiron and Bowery are dominated by transapient landlords who have made the most of the mishmash of architectural styles, playing buildings off each other and creating themed neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Stuyvesant favors masonry and brick (well, foamed, nanoformed simulants to reduce deck loads) in either American Renaissance neoclassic architecture reminiscent of 0AT North American government buildings, or of any number of the architectural trends found in Manhattan in the 50BT to 50AT period. There is a slight preponderance of "New Brooklyn Art Deco," which is an exaggeration and derivation of the 40-30BT art deco movement.

Stuyvesant is also noted for uniting its lanes 5 and 6 into a single large lane 1000 blocks long and hiring transapients to craft this double lane into "Central Park." That 25,200 square kilometers are set aside for parkland in the heart of the highest rent district of Nieuw Amsterdam is taken as a timeless statement of the government to look beyond the immediate desires of the people in favor of what is good for their long-term being. The few private residences and businesses grandfathered into Central Park are enormously valuable; the latest sale (of several square kilometers) was in exchange for a sufficient number of void motes in New Brooklyn's annual mote auctions to complete a type I Halo drive. Lanes surrounding Central Park tend to use selective transparency to keep the park in view through day and night.

Beyond the eight cardinal cities, Nieuw Amsterdam's population drops to less than 200 per square kilometer. These are further clustered in high-density towns and villages around major roadway and subway access points, which are generally at primary tethers. This leaves significant amounts of rural terrain, almost 20 million square kilometers between both Downtown and The Heights. Half is reserved for agriculture that, with genetically engineered plants and animals and not especially intensive farming, is sufficient to feed 10 billion humans. The remaining 10 million square kilometers are lightly-inhabited wilderness. Many "rural" residents prefer to live in starscrapers on exterior decks to avoid artificial structures in the wilderness areas.

As with most thin-hulled space habitats, Nieuw Amsterdam uses careful shaping of its interior decks to produce hills, rivers, and lakes instead of thick layers of rock and soil. It has no saltwater bodies, instead having only freshwater systems supporting "wild" aquatic ecosystems that are sustainably harvested. The rings also have no lakes over 10 square kilometers or deeper than 10 meters because the mass of larger bodies of water is simply excessive for the non-magmatter decks and tethers. In addition, it has expansive forests; there is very little open terrain not under cultivation or underwater. A majority of the forests are sustainably harvested and hunted, but about 3% of the rings' interior decks are covered in ancient forests that are managed without harvesting. The oldest few hundred hectares of (very protected) forests predate the ring city by up to 1000 years, being transplants from pre-Amsterdam arc-cities and private platforms.

Population growth in New Brooklyn is currently quite slow so the proportion of rural and urban land on Nieuw Amsterdam is unlikely to change soon.


New Brooklyn is a unitary republic, a representative cyberdemocracy. It is divided into districts by geography and population not to separate powers federally, but to supply location-tailored management from the various government departments. Due to an ancient amendment to the constitution, these districts have equal populations and thus equal legislative representation, though it was previously possible for districts to have varying populations and representation. Currently, there are an even 100 of these districts with 10 senators each for the House of Representatives, while the upper house, the Chamber of Governors, is staffed by the governors elected to each district to manage local branches of the various departments. With about 93% of the polity's population, Nieuw Amsterdam accordingly has 93 of the districts, which are in turn concentrated in the cardinal cities.

While legislative representation is handled by districts, there are smaller and higher levels of organization used by the government departments. Above districts are "states," which were intended to be applied to entire planets or star systems. Below districts are counties and the yet-smaller towns (also called "neighborhoods" in urban areas). Towns may be present in a district without an overarching county, typically in rural areas of Nieuw Amsterdam where there isn't sufficient population to justify a county. There are currently three states: Nieuw Amsterdam; the remainder of the static orbital ring; the balance of New Brooklyn; and Little Brooklyn. The states sub-divide their urban districts into counties at about 2,000,000 citizens per county, and use neighborhoods at the yet-smaller scale of 20,000 citizens each.

Unlike the elected governors of districts, states, counties, and towns use appointed executives ("governors-general," "county managers," and "mayors," respectively) who have been promoted through the bureaucracy of the various departments. Though the regions other than districts legally only require a "cabinet" (the local heads of departments), counties and towns tend to poll and consult their residents regularly to the point of creating formal legislatures or ombudsman organizations for those regions. It is a point of modest discontent that states are less connected to their constituents; none of the three states have created the same lower level legislatures or other formal polling methods and thus only have policies set by the full Senate. This is a perennial talking point in Brooklynese politics, but any attempts to change the Senate or create state-level legislatures have been defeated by disinterest in further complicating Brooklynese government.

In any case, the state of Nieuw Amsterdam is less interested in politics than managing a megastructure with 20 billion inhabitants. The governor-general and eir cabinet leave politicking to the districts and neighborhoods as much as possible. (The neighborhood councils are exceptional lightning rods for political grief, tying up the debate-loving New Brooklyn modosophonts in questions of import, such as appropriate dimensions of window flower pots and acceptable length of hanging vines versus property lines.) The state, meanwhile, oversees maintenance of the structure, real estate matters, policing, and


Nieuw Amsterdam, like New Brooklyn in general, is not angelnetted, which seems to stem from concerns about misbehaving angelnets. However, police are legally allowed to monitor most public-area sensors to identify illegal activities or trends toward illegal activities. The web of modern smart material buildings and nanotech systems on the orbital rings makes the megastructure a panopticon environment, but most would-be eavesdroppers are blocked by privacy laws. It is only police who are allowed to monitor public spaces continuously (usually leaving that to tireless policing AIs), while investigating private spaces requires easily-obtained warrants. The transapient-backed police force has developed some extremely effective techniques for detecting crimes in private spaces, ranging from monitoring sounds reaching public spaces (e.g., screams for help) to noting unusual cessation of Known Net access by an individual’s DNI to reports of unusual chemical mixes entering public nanostock recycling lines (e.g., 75kg of protein, calcium carbonates, lipids, and water). Warrants typically allow police access to individuals’ DNIs, private space sensors, and other systems that might have witnessed a suspected crime, and journaling memory systems make identification of recent sensor file edits easily detected. As a result, few crimes ever go unsolved, and most are spur-of-the-moment misbehavior. (Visitors find the resulting lack of universal sensor access either “refreshingly open” or “dangerously unmonitored,” depending on their upbringing.)

With the elimination of inherited mental instabilities in New Brooklyn’s nebs, a low-crime culture, and lack of material want, Nieuw Amsterdam is not a dangerous environment. Its hazard rating of 2 reflects the lack of an angelnet, not a crime rate. Visitors from angelnetted systems must simply be aware that when a bar fight begins an angelnet will not halt a swung pool cue or beer mug.

Because true death is hard to arrange in a society that uses extensive backups, most crimes are handled as property damage except for some that cause excessive mental anguish on the victim. Accordingly, punishment tends to take the form of fines and restitution, or fines, restitution, and memetic counseling. Serious crimes - extended emotional abuse, assault, etc. - are accompanied by prison sentences. The prison sentences are handled virtually in isolated computers, but not in accelerated time. The intent of imprisonment in New Brooklyn is to genuinely inconvenience the prisoner, separating them from their former lives for the period of their imprisonment. If the crime is worth imprisonment and an assessment of the criminal’s mentality indicates the criminal has behaviors that are likely to lead to further criminal actions, reprogramming will be used to instill more civic-minded behaviors.


The relatively high output of Nieuw Amsterdam’s open field farms, ranches, and forests is sufficient to meet about half of New Brooklyn’s food requirements and a host of other needs. There is thus a relatively high usage of “natural” products on Nieuw Amsterdam compared to many megastructure space habitats. Beyond food, there is widespread usage of plant- and animal-derived cloth; wooden furniture, flooring, and non-critical structures; and paper products. Depending on the century and demographic, there are usually some highly skilled Prim or Lo Tek craftssophonts that produce goods from these products in pre-spaceflight fashions, but usage of “natural” material is common regardless of the processing techniques. (The New Brooklynese usage of “natural” in this context is flexible but generally means, “Grown in soil or open water.” It definitely does not exclude genetic engineered products as all of the trees, crops, mushrooms, and animals of the orbital rings have been engineered at some point to high-yield forms compatible with space habitats. It does seem to exclude all vat-grown products, aeroponics, hydroponics, printed foods, and nano-simulated products.)

Nieuw Amsterdam has a persistently high interest in crime mystery fiction, though the exact level varies by generation and demographic. Most favorite stories have roots in real unsolved crimes. Criminal fiction in the system has is littered with tropes and clichés that renders New Brooklyn’s subset of criminal mysteries rather melodramatic and unrealistic but makes it easier for modosophont authors to produce convincing mysteries. The police find the genre rather useful because, for example, the body of canon considers it an unshakeable law of criminal forensics that certain commercial nanocleaners will remove fingerprints and DNA traces from a crime scene. In fact, the cleaners are ineffective and do not hinder policework. Certain application patterns of their usage are a significant tip to police that a crime occurred, though.


The state government is the default owner of the megastructure, and always reserves certain rights like utilities and control of main structural elements (e.g., decks and tethers) as a matter of efficiency and safety. Private real estate primarily begins in buildings mounted to the megastructure, though in rural areas this may include the false terrain overlays above the main interior decks.

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Development Notes
Text by Mike Miller
Initially published on 13 May 2015.