Legal Framework for Sustainable Floating City Development

Submitted by Fen-Yu (Vicky) Lin | published 4th Jan 2022 | last updated 18th Jan 2022
Impressions of large-scale floating cities


Floating city development has been recognized increasingly as a viable solution to pressing global challenges such as climate change, sea level rise, urbanization and land scarcity. Particularly the first ever high-level roundtable discussion convened by UN-HABITAT in 2019 has created a ripple effect across the world, raising awareness of different sectors and leading people to (re)think about the concept of “living on the water”.

Critical challenges

Recently there has been a growing number of floating city initiatives being introduced all over the world. Countries including Singapore, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Maldives have shown serious interests in exploring further or even prototyping floating cities. While the needs and will are there, and so are the design and engineering capabilities, it could be observed that governance and legal issues have been relatively underemphasized. How will a floating city be regulated/governed? Who will be the owner of the floating city? The legal issues are according to floating city experts, the most challenging part which hinder the upscaling of floating city and need to be further worked out.

Case study: the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a frontrunner when it comes to living on water. Floating development has been ubiquitous over the past decades in the form of houseboats and lately evolved to a more modern form of e.g. self-sufficient floating homes. Legal issues have been investigated and regulations have been drawn up to deal with the growing floating housing market. There are many existing rules and regulations that the rest of the world could refer to and learn from. Experts with relevant knowledge on these issues have come together and describe the legal challenges holistically from various levels (international, regional and national), resulting a joint paper which was published in 2021. It is available for download here