Are floating cities our future?

Settlements that float on water have been touted as a potential solution to Earth’s rising sea levels and increasing extreme weather events.T

There was a faint drizzle in the afternoon air as I stepped onto the wide, white jetty that marks the boundary of Waterbuurt, Amsterdam’s floating neighbourhood.

Despite the threat of rain, residents, who live in compact, three-storey houses bobbing on a small lake on the Dutch capital’s eastern edge, were busy enjoying the afternoon. A mother and daughter dangled fishing rods from their kitchen window while two young boys splashed in the water, taking turns on a swing strung from a bridge. Benches, bikes and barbecues lined the jetty’s railings, interspersed every 10m or so by a bright orange life ring.

I was led on my tour of this unique semi-aquatic community by Ton van Namen, whose company, Monteflore, masterminded the project. But rather than waxing lyrical about the success of this envelope-pushing development, which now incorporates 100 floating homes, van Namen was more interested in discussing the seemingly endless string of problems that went into creating it. Issues that were once surely a cause of great frustration were now apparently a source of great amusement.

“Oh, and then there was the issue with the zoning plan,” van Namen said as we walked the jetty, the afternoon breeze ruffling the sleeves of his blue shirt and tips of his long grey hair. “Someone wrote all the homes would be a certain height above street level. But of course, here, the homes are going up and down.” He let out such a roar of laughter that the mother and daughter glanced up from their rods, displeased by this disruption to their watery serenity.

It makes sense that the Netherlands is the nation testing the waters when it comes to floating homes, given the country’s green ethos and history of innovative design. The country is also the lowest lying in Europe, making sea level rise a very real threat. But it isn’t just floating houses the Dutch are experimenting with.

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