Will B.C.’s largest city be located on the Strait of Georgia?
Some estimate that in as little as 30 years 90% of the world’s largest cities will be exposed to rising seas. Most coastal cities will be impacted by coastal erosion and flooding, displacing millions of people, while destroying homes and infrastructure.
That means these land starved communities will experience a reduction in developable land. If we think affordability is an issue today, then imagine what would happen if we had to move the residents of Delta and Richmond to higher land.
The solution – floating cities
To see how this might work non-profit OCEANIX, the MIT Center for Ocean Engineering, BIG and partners proposed their vision for the world’s first resilient and sustainable floating community for 10,000 residents called Oceanix City, located in French Polynesia.
Oceanix City is designed as a man-made ecosystem anchored in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, channeling flows of energy, water, food and waste to create a blueprint for a modular maritime city.
Using modular infrastructure helps to future proof ocean-based cities. They can grow, transform and evolve organically over time. Towns can grow into cities with the possibility of scaling indefinitely. Modular interconnected neighborhoods create thriving self-sustaining communities of up to 300 residents with mixed-use space for living, working and gathering during day and nighttime. All the buildings are kept below 7 stories to create a low center of gravity and resist wind. Every building provides shade and protection from the elements for both for internal spaces and public realm, providing comfort and lower cooling costs while maximizing roof area for solar capture.
Every platform has the ability to support community farms, allowing residents to embrace sharing culture and zero waste systems. Beneath the platforms, bio-rock floating reefs, seaweed, oysters, mussel, scallop and clam farming clean the water and accelerate ecosystem regeneration.
To reach a minimum critical density, six villages connect to form a city of 10,000 residents with a strong sense of community and identity. Ideally, neighbourhoods are arranged in a circle to create a large protected harbour in the heart of the city. Floating public spaces would include public art, community centres, a city square, a market place. Depending on what residents prefer, facilities dedicated to spirituality, learning, health, sport, and culture could be used to create neighbourhood focal points, drawing residents from across the city while helping to give each neighborhood in a unique identity.
The Oceanix concept relies on locally sourced materials for building construction, including fast-growing bamboo that has six times the tensile strength of steel, a negative carbon footprint, and can be grown on the neighborhoods themselves.
Each residential platform can be prefabricated onshore and towed to its final site, reducing construction costs. Pairing this with the low cost of leasing space on the ocean creates an affordable model of living. These factors mean that affordable housing can be rapidly deployed to coastal mega-cities in need.
Is this for real?
The concept of ocean cities is being seriously explored by the United Nations as a solution for island nations whose very existence is threatened by climate change. The first UN high-level round-table on Sustainable Floating Cities was held in April 2019 and brought together innovators, explorers, marine engineers and scientists at the UN Headquarters to share ideas and solutions to the threats faced by coastal cities and countries due to rising sea levels.
Why the Strait of Georgia?
Strait of Georgia is the intricate network of coastal waterways that includes the southwestern portion of British Columbia from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Discovery Islands in the north. The Strait of Georgia is separated from the open Pacific Ocean by Vancouver Island and as a result it is shielded from Pacific Ocean storms.
Ocean cities are designed to be able to withstand South Pacific Typhoons, so the BC coastal windstorms of Typhoon Freda in 1962 and of December 2006 would be no challenge for Oceanix style engineering.
Ocean cities are a solution to communities threatened by rising oceans, but they are potentially a fantastic solution for communities struggling to add housing supply. If Metro Vancouver residents, won’t support densification in older neighbourhoods, would they support a new floating neighbourhood in the False Creek, Burrard Inlet, Indian Arm, or Boundary Bay?
A final benefit of ocean cities is that they bind humanity more closely to the health and fate of our oceans. The federal government must look closely at the risks shipping of hazardous chemicals through the Strait of Georgia if there were a city of 500,000 voters located in the waters between Vancouver and Nanaimo.