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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

Sustainably Coping with Sea Level Rise

House boats floating in water in the Netherlands

Gina Sanders/

In the coastal nation of the Netherlands, mostly built on reclaimed land—a third of which is below sea level—Amsterdam has around 3,000 registered houseboats on canals. A Rotterdam city official states, “Instead of seeing water just as an enemy, we see it as an opportunity.” The newest innovation, a floating house, can be constructed on any shoreline and is able to cope with rising seas or rain-induced floods by floating. Unlike houseboats, Dutch floating homes are fixed to the shore on steel poles, connected to the local sewer system and power grid. They are structurally similar to houses built on land, but instead of a basement, they have a concrete hull counterweight that keeps them stable.

In the Netherlands, the structures are often prefabricated, square-shaped, three-story townhouses built offsite with conventional materials like timber, steel and glass. For cities facing worsening floods and a shortage of buildable land, floating homes are one potential blueprint for how to expand urban housing in the age of climate change. These floating communities are inspiring projects in flood-prone countries such as French Polynesia and the Maldives. Siti Boelen, a Dutch television producer, says, “We feel safer in a storm because we are floating. I think it’s kind of strange that building on water is not a priority worldwide.”

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