This new South Korean neighborhood will float as sea levels rise
By the middle of the century, according to one estimate, 800 million people will live in cities where sea levels could rise by more than half a meter. Many coastal neighborhoods are already regularly flooded. In South Korea, the city of Busan is considering a radical response: a new neighborhood that floats. As the sea level rises, the neighborhood will also rise.
This is the first project from Oceanix, a New York-based startup that has partnered with the city for development, as well as several other partners, including UN-Habitat, a United Nations program focused on sustainable development. Oceanix co-founders Itai Madamombe and Marc Collins Chen “were both concerned about sea level rise and its impact on coastal cities,” says Madamombe. “And we were also concerned about land shortages in coastal towns and how they drive up the price of housing.”
They also saw the problems that arise when cities expand on land “reclaimed” from water. “You basically wipe out everything in the ocean by dumping debris,” she says. “You’re also now more sensitive to sea level rise because you’ve destroyed your protective barrier, like the mangroves.” Instead of destroying nature, the startup wanted to find a way to build that could help regenerate the marine ecosystem.
The company plans to build new housing and other buildings on large floating concrete platforms that are anchored to the seabed – so they don’t float – but can rise and fall with the water. . (Due to the design and local shape of the waves, people on the platforms will not feel the movement.) The concrete is designed to allow the growth of marine flora and fauna on the surface. The startup also uses a material called Biorock, which extracts minerals from water to naturally form limestone. Biorock can be planted with seaweed and other plants that can both help clean coastal waters and provide habitat.
The Busan district will be connected to the local electricity grid but is expected to be self-sufficient, generating on-site solar and wind power which will be stored in batteries. The site will also collect and purify rainwater for use in buildings and treat water used for showering or hand washing so that it can be reused. Residents will be able to travel to other parts of the city via a nearby underground metro station, although the site will also include offices, so some people will be able to walk to work.
Project partners unveiled the design this week and will now have to go through the licensing process; after obtaining permits, they expect construction to take four to five years. Oceanix envisions similar developments in coastal cities around the world. “Our hope is that this can be in two types of cities: first, cities that face rising sea levels; and second, towns that lack land and usually resort to land reclamation,” says Madamombe. “It’s very damaging to the ocean. We’ve found a way to live in harmony with nature – and not just to live in harmony, but to regenerate it.