Posted February 13, 2020
Water-based communities will help tackle the effects of climate change and offer a solution to overcrowding in coastal cities
The world’s first self-sustaining floating city could become a reality within the next decade, as experts grapple with the prospect of coastal communities being flooded by rising sea levels.
Water-based communities could be constructed in response to the potentially devastating impact of climate change and to combat overcrowding and poor living conditions.
Located about one kilometre from land in the shallow waters of host nations, the settlements could offer a clean slate to rethink how people build, live, work, and play.
During a panel discussion at the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, global experts said floating cities were a viable answer to upcoming challenges.
Victor Kisob is deputy executive director of UN-Habitat, the UN’s programme for human settlements and sustainable urban development.
“Floating cities sound like a crazy idea but they could lead to all sorts of possibilities if done in the right way,” he said.
“In 2019, the United Nations pushed forward a discussion on this topic and we are keen to come up with real solutions for these cities.
“The next step would be to design a prototype with partners from the private sector that could be tried and tested.”
Mr Kisob said establishing a “brain trust” to increase knowledge on the science that would guide such an initiative was crucial.
About 90 per cent of the world’s largest global cities are vulnerable to rising sea levels.
As a result, the vast majority of these will be affected by erosion and flooding in the future.
To reduce the threat of human displacement and permanent infrastructure damage, Mr Kisob said there is a need to create more “resilient and sustainable cities”.
Made up of floating, modular platforms which are moored to the ocean floor, the waterscapes could house tens of thousands of residents. They would also contain the typical urban spaces seen in today’s cities such as public squares and marketplaces.
While design and infrastructure are core challenges to making floating cities a reality, Mr Kisob said people play a big part in their success too.
“They will be self-sustaining, so residents can grow their own food, generate energy and recycle waste.
“A key element would be the need to inculcate new behaviours in people.
“We need to ensure very little waste is coming out of a structure like this to make it sustainable.”
In support of UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda, non-profit organisation Oceanix designed the concept for the world’s first sustainable floating community.
On Monday, Marc Collins Chen, chief operating officer of Oceanix, said the city would produce its own power and heat using renewable sources such as sunlight, wind and waves. Water would be harvested from rain generation and vapour distillation technologies.
The next step would be to design a prototype with partners from the private sector that could be tried and tested
Victor Kisob, UN-Habitat
“I often get asked if these settlements would be robust against tsunamis, hurricanes and other severe weather extremities,” he said.
“We are working with MIT’s Centre for Ocean Engineering to see how these modular structures can sustain category five weather conditions.
“It is a design issue – it’s about building differently.”
Going forward, there would be challenges, Mr Collins Chen said.
While the technology to build these cities exists, it is about bringing them together in an affordable way.
“If we design something that is unaffordable, it defeats the purpose of being sustainable. These cities are for the masses, not the few.”
Secondly is “political will” and finding the right host city to house the prototype.
“Cities have relied on water throughout history so the right partner would be a city or government that recognises the role of the ocean in a positive way,” he said.
“We are looking to partner with a country that shows recognition of the global issues around urbanisation and a strong leadership that is willing to think outside of the box to effect change.”