Living on the water? Around the world, several floating city projects are presented as solutions to the rise of the oceans due to global warming, despite some doubts about their viability.
At the Mipim World Real Estate Fair in Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes), a prototype floating city in the Maldives competes for a prize for the best major project. This city does not yet have a name, but will, the designers assure, consist of a collection of floating platforms in the middle of a lagoon of this Indian Ocean archipelago. There should be about 5,000 colorful houses.
“A floating city is not a luxury, it is a necessity” for this island country whose survival is threatened by global warming and rising sea levels, Paul van de Camp, head of Dutch company Dutch Docklands, which promotes the project, told AFP. And the capital Malé, where more than 150,000 inhabitants displace an 8 km2 atoll completely urbanized, is completely saturated, he recalls.
He does not dwell on the precise technical features of the project, which will be officially presented by the President of the Maldives in the spring. Not even at their expense. But he promises that the funding will be secured and assures that the technical limitations are not insurmountable.
“There are some very large global players that have helped us with systems for energy, sewage, water, electricity, which are well tested and relatively innovative”, assures Paul van de Camp. He hopes the site will be ready by 2027 at the latest, and claims to have been approached by “multiple countries” to recreate the experience, without specifying which ones.
There are already floating buildings all over the world, just like traditional fishing villages are built on water, in the Amazon, Thailand or Indonesia, Paul van de Camp emphasizes. But no modern project of this magnitude has seen the light of day. Another is being prepared in Busan, South Korea, operated by the Oceanix company and supported by UN-Habitat.
Again, the technical details, costs, etc. have not yet been disclosed. They will become official in April, explains AFP Itai Madamombe, founder of Oceanix. The site is expected to be ready by the end of 2025. However, doubts remain about the viability of such structures.
For Ayça Kirimtat, a researcher at the Czech University of Hradec Kralove who has been studying floating cities for a long time, the economic obstacle is difficult to overcome. “Building very large floating structures above sea level is much more expensive than normal buildings on land”, she told AFP. Energy, transport, services, food…the number of parameters to take into account is enormous, she emphasizes.
“I don’t believe there is a technology problem”says Nicholas Makris, a professor of oceans at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). “It’s more about economic efficiency. To succeed in doing everything in a feasible and economically feasible way”, he said. Something possible in a place that is adequately protected from extreme weather and the hostile conditions of the high seas.
Ultimately, what could make floating cities attractive is rising waters, which pose a threat to island nations as well as all coastal cities, thinks Chien Ming Wang, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Queensland, Australia.
“For coastal cities, when you experience the waves and rising oceans, you have no choice but to bear the damage and rebuild. So it is very expensive”explains this floating city specialist, who was consulted for the Maldives project.
“With floating cities and houses, you don’t have to worry about flooding, as your house is always above sea level. We will see floating cities popping up all over the world in the next ten or twenty years.”he predicted.