Floating cities, the new normal?
Perhaps you’ve daydreamed about inhabiting a bold new world where people live in floating cities, tranquil and untouched by what’s going on below. Well, such cities may not be confined to your imagination for much longer. With sea levels rising, ideas that used to be considered science fiction are gradually becoming concrete possibilities and international corporations, such as Oceanix and Bjarke Ingels Group, are getting involved.
The threat posed by rising sea levels
About twelve years ago, entrepreneur Mark Collins Chen took a survey of his native South Pacific home of French Polynesia. He did this in an effort to determine if rising sea levels were posing a threat to French Polynesia’s 118 islands. Based on his investigations, he concluded that by 2035 or, at the latest, 2050, a third of French Polynesia would be underwater. So, in as little as 15 years, the native peoples who had resided on these islands for generations could lose the very ground beneath their feet.
Of course, rising sea levels are not just a concern for islanders. Anyone living in a coastal region, or around 40% of the global population, is vulnerable to the rise in sea levels we are currently experiencing, which is being caused by climate change. Spurred into action by his findings, Chen decided there had to be some way of addressing the practical reality of this looming catastrophe.
So, in 2018, Chen launched Oceanix, a company focused on human habitation solutions. The aim of the organization is to help those impacted by rising sea levels by creating off-shore urban infrastructure. The hope is that this infrastructure will help residents to safeguard their homes against powerful storms and floods.
However, Chen wants to go further. He wants to create floating islands that could function as permanent settlements for those displaced by rising sea levels. Basically, Chen wants to create floating cities.
What will these floating cities look like?
In early 2019, Chen, architect Bjarke Ingels (from Bjarke Ingels Group) and others, including experts in water engineering, zero waste, energy-efficiency and mobility, went in front of the United Nations to announce their plans for an entirely sustainable and floating city. The plan they unveiled was for a group of floating hexagonal-shaped islands covering 4.5 acres, the equivalent of almost 3.5 football fields. The islands, Chen and his group explained, would provide homes for as many as 300 individuals.
It was envisaged that an open port would form the center of this island group, with six islands positioned around the port. Different islands would serve different purposes. One may be the hub for education and another the healthcare hub. Culture, exercise, shopping, solar energy, spirituality and farming activities would all be catered for on specific islands. This project may appear fantastical and some have expressed reservations about living conditions on the islands. As Victor Kisob, Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat has stated, “It’s our duty to make sure this burgeoning sector is mobilized for the good of all people.” Nonetheless, the plans have potential.
As yet, Oceanix’s plans have not been formally approved by the UN. However, the UN sees Chen and his colleagues as pioneers in the concept of sustainable floating cities. Chen is already creating prototypes of the hexagonal man-made islands and their biorock anchors, which will keep them tethered to the ocean floor. It will still be a few more years before the planning is complete but Chen and architect Ingels believe that they can create something truly extraordinary if only they are given the chance. As Ingels describes:
“Imagine a community port where you have a market down by the sea, where you can go in the evening and stroll and hang out, where you can move around on electrical nautical vehicles (instead of cars) on this bazaar-like street along canals that connect and separate islands.” – (Bjarke Ingels, architect)
While the Oceanix floating city project is undoubtedly ambitious, it presents some exciting and valuable possibilities. Thanks to Chen and his team, we may be one step closer to the realization of sustainable, safe, off-grid and off-shore communities.