The idea of building an entire city that floats atop the world’s oceans and can withstand massive storms sounds like something out of science fiction. But at a recent United Nations round table, one organization’s floating city concept not only received support, but also genuine interest from numerous officials to help develop it.
UN-Habitat, a branch of the organization devoted specifically to sustainable urban development, will now join forces with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the Explorers Club, and the private firm Oceanix to actualize the concept.
The idea is simple in theory, but incredibly complex in practice. Oceanix envisions floating communities capable of supporting populations of 10,000 each and even of protecting inhabitants from immense storms. These floating cities are meant to offer an alternative to various efforts around the world to expand buildable territory by pouring sand or other materials into coastal areas. According to Oceanix, these practices pose not only substantial risk to coastal marine life, but also provide little protection for inhabitants of these new land masses against global weather threats like hurricanes, cyclones, or tsunamis.
As sea levels continue to rise, these reclaimed patches of land will be increasingly difficult to maintain—but floating cities remain in place, regardless of fluctuating water.
The first floating community, dubbed “Oceanix City” after the firm that envisions it, would feature of a group of hexagonal platforms anchored to the seabed in an area of an ocean chosen specifically to have enough depth to ride out inbound tsunamis.
Each platform contains living space for approximately 300 people, with enough platforms linked together to create a sprawling metropolis. Beneath these platforms, the Oceanix plan incorporates an undersea fishing industry using cages to capture scallops, kelp, and other marine life.
According to Bjarke Ingels, the architect behind the city concept, a platform of 10,000 people would be sufficient to develop a self-sustaining metropolis.
To be honest, metropolis may be the wrong word for it, as high rises and similarly tall structures would be banned in favor of a lower center of gravity and increased stability. The current structure design is seven stories or shorter, and relies on a number of interconnected systems to alleviate the need for heavy equipment. Garbage, for instance, would be removed through pneumatic tubes, rather than employing cumbersome garbage trucks.
The concept undoubtedly requires some significant technological leaps, but according to many people associated with the endeavor, it’s already entirely possible. The hard part is just convincing people to try it.
“The main obstacles at this point are psychological and are not technological,” Richard Wiese, president of The Explorers Club, told the BBC.
“People psychologically get nervous at the term ‘floating city’. I used this term to my wife, and her immediate response was not technological but rather visceral, she didn’t like the idea of something that could drift away.”
Wiese believes the way to overcome this obstacle isn’t to build a full-fledged floating city right away, but rather to use the same technology to extend buildable areas in large coastal cities such as Hong Kong, New York, or Boston. Once floating city blocks became an ordinary part of life in metropolitan areas, the idea of a stand-alone city wouldn’t seem as daunting to the public.
In effect, what Oceanix and the U.N. have is a plan. What they’re missing are investors willing to support their vision of the future.
“Everybody on the team actually wants to get this built,” said Marc Collins, CEO of Oceanix. “We’re not just theorizing.”