Floating Cities- Fad or Future?

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1Q 2022 | IN-6417

In recent months there has been an increased interest and investment in floating structures for urban and industrial uses.

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Who are the Innovators?


Floating cities may have seemed like something from a science fiction novel, but with technological advances and a changing climate forcing adaptation they are closer to becoming a reality. Technology company Oceanix, Busan Metropolitan City, and UN-Habitat have signed an agreement to build the world’s first prototype of a sustainable, floating city. They aim to create a model for the thousands of cities around the world that are vulnerable to flooding and rising sea levels.

A floating structure that is already operational is the OXAGON. The OXAGON is a floating industrial complex establishes in the smart city development, NEOM, in Saudi Arabia. It is the largest floating structure in the world at seven kilometers in diameter. The OXAGON will focus on sustainability energy, autonomous mobility, water innovation, sustainable food production, health and wellbeing, technology and digital manufacturing (including telecommunications, space technology, and robotics), and modern methods of construction. The first occupants are expected in early 2022.

What are the Benefits of Floating Structures?


Floating structures differ from previous approaches to climate adaptation as rather than fighting rising sea levels, they aim to live in harmony with it. For these structures to be livable they would have to have a complete ecosystem of food, energy, and water production, as well as waste disposal or zero-waste methods. This requirement ensures that these structures are fully self-sustaining. This may make the concept of a floating structure popular with some critical infrastructure as it is required that it is disaster and climate proof.

With 90% of megacities worldwide vulnerable to rising sea levels, it is essential to have many different climate adaptation strategies developed. Many coastal cities face spatial, environmental, and demographic issues. These issues drive houses closer and closer to the water, driving up costs. Being able to produce structures that are less vulnerable to rising tides is a key method to help reduce pressure on spatial issues.

Are Floating Cities a Gimmick or a Look into the Future?


Floating infrastructures are attracting more investment especially with the focus on climate adaptation, which was a key consideration at COP26. Climate adaptation is the change in mindset from fighting the already changing climate to growing with it. The ability to keep critical infrastructure safe from a changing climate is a crucial concern for many cities. Creating future-proof structures is essential for cities to function. However, the innovation and cost required to create a fully functioning floating city will not allow it to be a widespread solution. Furthermore, the structures are limited by the type of coastline that would be suitable for these structures.  

A major issue with floating cities is the perception. It would be very difficult to get a large volume of people to live on these structures. Nevertheless, there are many examples of cities incorporating floating structures. For example, the city of Amsterdam has hundreds of houses along its waterways that are very popular with residents. There have also been other floating innovations, such as floating farms and floating hospitals, which could gain some traction in the future. The blue-tech innovations that come from projects such as the floating city and OXAGON can have far reaching applications. Therefore, these types of projects are important for the future of cities, critical infrastructure, and urban environments.  

Overall, floating cities are not expected to become a widespread solution for cities spatial and climate issues. However, the innovation that comes from these projects will have global relevance. Furthermore, there will be an increase in floating structures and blue tech innovations.