Big cities and water are a natural fit. Of all the cities with a population of 1 million and above, 89% are on the waterfront. This can pose a serious problem for growth: the cities have to build backward into the land when the waterfront gets crowded. In addition, rising waters due to climate change can take away real estate from already-crowded metropolises. Some researchers have estimated that there will be as many as 50 million environmental refugees by 2020, and many will come from places where water is gobbling up the land.
A Dutch architectural firm believes it has some of the answers to dynamically growing cities with floating islands of infrastructure. A city could add a floating car park for a couple of years, and then move it to another location, says Dutch Docklands’ Jasper Mulder. "It’s more dynamic and all you need is water," he says. "Movable floating infrastructure can make it possible to do so much." When the building is no longer needed—say, when a big event is finished—it can be detached from the land and sent elsewhere.
The islands are made from compressed foam and concrete, and are pulled together with draw rails and covered with a layer of concrete. They are attached to the sea floor with a simple anchor, and have a minimal ecological impact. The slabs are big enough to minimize any wave action, sort of like oil rigs, says Mulder.
Floating slabs can take many shapes. One option is a sandy floating beach. The company says such an artificial beach offers an alternative for cities where there are no beaches, where land is sinking, or where sand shortages present drawbacks for traditional land reclamation. The floating beach would be erosion-free.
A floating platform could also be used as a cruise ship terminal, where even the biggest cruise ships could dock. Solar cells on top provide the terminal with electricity. Inside, the company imagines passenger conveyor belts to bring people to the top of the terminal for views.
Floating parking lots and roads could alleviate expenses for cities. Giving up precious real estate for cars is a difficult maneuver. Other obstacles for potential locations include financial viability, planning procedures, environmental considerations, and infrastructure implications, says Dutch Docklands. A floating roadway looks a bit like a floating bridge that goes on for miles. It could connect islands, or serve as a faster way around a congested city center. In addition, the company envisions floating boulevards to extend waterfront property further, adding space for parks, shopping, or public space to enjoy the waves.