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What are Sustainable Floating Cities?

May 2, 2022 - Jordan Cheung

A floating marine city might sound like a science fiction fantasy, but these innovative projects might soon become a reality.

The concept of a floating city is not new. Humans have a long history of living on water. Water homes are a common feature in fishing villages in Southeast Asia, Peru, and Bolivia but modern floating homes can also be found in Canada and the Netherlands. As our cities grapple with overcrowding and undesirable living situations, the ocean remains a potential frontier for sophisticated water-based communities.

In April 2019, the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) discussed the possibility of sustainable floating cities becoming the homes for people who are forced to migrate elsewhere because they are threatened by rising sea levels and other climate-related extreme events. According to Oceanix, the company that raised the idea, these floating communities should be built near coastal cities to accomodate people fleeing from looming natural disasters. Indeed, designers came up with plans to make these floating cities flood-proof and able to withstand storms, making them much safer than some existing cities located on coastal areas. 

These floating cities would be built of several connected hexagonal platforms and each would be able to host around 300 people. However, more ambitions projects aim to house up to 10,000 people on these floating “islands”. The connected platforms would have varying designs, each of which would serve a role in sustainability. For example, one platform would have submerged gardens for growing seafood while another would store equipment for making saltwater drinkable. Inner platforms would include communal facilities like schools, gyms and stadiums, and hospitals. These cities would also rely on renewable energy, with solar panels, devices to harness wave power, and organic waste generating most of its energy. 

What are the Benefits of Floating Cities?

While 90% of the world’s largest cities are located in water proximity, climate change can threaten the future of many communities, with sea levels expected to rise by more than 70 centimetres by the end of the century. Floating cities would be a safer, climate-resilient environment for flood-stricken communities. Indeed, they are projected to have specific structures that can keep the center of gravity low, protecting them from strong waves, floods, tsunamis, and even hurricanes. Moreover, the positioning of the platforms can help cool down ocean temperatures by casting shadows on the surface of the water. 

60% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2030.  As cities become overcrowded, the ability to build homes on the ocean’s surface could also increase available housing space and help depopulate overcrowded cities.

Challenges of Building Sustainable Floating Cities

The idea of floating cities might sound very promising but we are silvery far from turning this concept into reality as we still lack research in the field as well as the appropriate technologies to build suhc an ambitious project on water. Furthermore, building them could be extremely expensive. A small floating city for nearly 300 residents could cost as much as USD$167 million. Imagine how much it would cost to build a larger city that houses more people!

Although there are still many obstacles on the path to making floating cities a reality, we still made huge progress and are on the right way. Only time will tell whether floating cities will turn out to be the path society will choose toward a more climate-friendly future.

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