Busan to build first floating city in the world

A glimpse into the future.
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Credit: OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

Busan, a seaside city in South Korea, is going to build a floating city in its nearby water by 2025.  In a statement released on November 18, Busan, a city home to over three million people, said its United Nations-backed project will be the first floating city in the world. 

Busan added that its floating city can be a good solution to coastal cities and nations struggling with the rising sea level due to climate change.

A significant number of cities and nations, facing coastal flooding, are at risk of a major disaster.  The World Economic Forum (WEF) stated in 2019 that around 570 cities will be exposed to coastal flooding by 2050, even if the temperature is kept to rising to around two degrees Celsius.  

At this rate, the WEF said, about 90 percent of all coastal areas will be affected by coastal flooding to varying extent. Cities and nations that are still above the risen sea level will have to find ways to adapt or fight against the rising waters quickly.

Busan officials said building a floating city, which is estimated to cost US$200 million, can be a promising solution to the coastal flooding problem.

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Credit: OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

A potential solution to climate crisis

According to the officials, a self-floating city is “a city that can meet consumption needs of energy, water, and food, equipped with zero-waste closed-loop systems”. The city also dubbed the project as a modern version of the “Ark of Noah”.

Although the concept sounds rather futuristic and unrealistic, Baek Seung-man, a professor at the School of Architecture, Yeungnam University, said it is not impossible to construct such a city by adopting the latest technology.

“Building a city in the ocean requires completely different professions from inland urban development,” Prof. Baek told Maritime Fairtrade. “Considering the recent technological developments, it is also not a mere dream to build a floating city that can produce energy in the waters.”

An official from the Busan City Office told Maritime Fairtrade that the United Nations has considered a floating city as one of the most feasible climate adaptation solutions for the past few years.

“The idea to build a floating city was first brought to the discussion table of the UN in 2016,” an official, surnamed Hong, said. “Since April 2019, building a floating city was included in the sustainable city development projects in response to the climate change.” 

Hong said Busan was designated to build the prototype of the floating city due to its convenient access to the international ports and considerable size of the populace.

“Sustainable floating cities are a part of the arsenal of climate adaptation strategies available to us,” the UN-Habitat Executive Director Mainmunah Mohd Sharif said in a statement. “We look forward to developing climate adaptation and nature-based solutions through the floating city concept, and Busan is the ideal choice to deploy the prototype.”

Rising sea level problem, Oceanix-City
Floating city is a potential solution to the rising sea level problem.
Credit: OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group

The future is here

The floating city will be able to accommodate up to 10,000 people. Residents can walk and sail throughout the two-hectare-big city. The city will have common urban facilities, such as a public square, marketplaces and schools. The buildings and structures will be kept under seven stories in height to view of safety and structural considerations.

To float, the city will be made up of limestone-coated platforms that are stronger than concrete. The project leaders said that they will use materials that are locally sourced and will leave fewer carbon footprints.

The city will be water-proof, designed to cope with extreme weather conditions and natural disasters, such as Category 5 hurricanes.  The official construction will begin next year.  The city’s designer, Oceanix, is already in discussion with 10 other countries to build more floating cities.

“Busan will step up as the world’s leading marine city as we complete the construction,” Hong from the Busan City Office said. “South Korea also has been conducting research and development projects on sea level changes and climate adaptation technologies. This project to build a floating city will be helpful testament in that regard.”

Hong added that this is a good opportunity for Busan to “pioneer and export technological know-hows and insight into the floating city construction to other cities and countries”.

However, Prof. Baek from Yeungnam University cautioned that building floating cities should be based on careful consideration and not just be on the hype of climate change.

“What I am worried about the most is the pollution,” Baek said. “There will be pollution-producing buildings and infrastructures built on the platforms and the cities should be able to find ways to keep their platforms zero-waste.” 

Also, Prof. Baek said the governments should own the rights of the floating city and not privatizing the project.

“In the case of South Korea, most of the land is owned and traded in the private sector, which causes issues and conflicts from time to time,” he said. “To prevent such property issues, it is better off for the government to keep the floating city in Busan as a public property.”

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OceanixCity Underwater Night Image concept
Credit: OCEANIX/BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group
Sunny Um

Sunny Um

Sunny, our South Korea correspondent working out of Seoul, is a journalist with a passion for community journalism and an interest in economics and politics.

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