In my world I have a town seaside where merfolk and humans work side by side. I'm very keen to see actual interaction, not just humans on the land and fish in the sea. I want the merfolk to feel at home and not be stuck like "a fish out of water" (sorry, couldn't resist).

These merfolk can breath with both lungs and gills so they will not suffocate if they stay out of the sea for too long but obviously travelling around could be difficult. What would be different in a town where a significant proportion of the population have tails instead of legs?

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    $\begingroup$ Is this the same world as the baserock question? Are you suggesting mermaids floating on helium balloons? $\endgroup$
    – kaine
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ @kaine don't forget the squeaky voices! $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ Are your merfolk able to move when on land? $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 8:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Philipp that's what the question relates to. I envisage them being able to slide themselves on their hands (although it may be uncomfortable) but not nearly as well as a snake would move. $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ Swim up bars would have been created far sooner. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Feb 3, 2015 at 20:51

6 Answers 6


Such a city would need to built with a significant portion on water. This could be done like Venice, as Tim B has said, or it could be done in a way like described as in this question. This question asks about how a completely floating city could be created. The question focuses on engineering hurtles, but I liked the idea. For this answer I will be focusing on the second method.

If the whole town was built entirely on water, mer-people would likely have houses built on the underside or side of the city platform. Likely more expensive houses would built on the side, with the cheapest houses being in the center, because the houses on the edge would get more sunlight. If part of the city were submerged, the same would be largely true, with the buildings stuck to the outside of the city for the mer-people.

On the bottom of the floating city their would be stairways that opened up into the ocean. These stairways would go down a little ways into the water, allowing mer-people to get a handle on them before leaving the water. Humans would also have a place to push off if they ever visited the mer-folk. I expect humans in this kind of city would be significantly better at swimming, because their neighbors would live underwater.

The city could also be merely built on the edge of the sea as well, possibly coming closer to the ocean than a normal city would. The merfolk's houses would be in the sea, while the human's homes would be on land. The beach between would be a common place, like a large park. The key to having this land-sea city work would be a special system of sidewalks. Along side the sidewalks would be a series of slides (made out of metal or a slippery plastic), and large water-filled tubes. Mer-people could slide down the slides (occasionally pushing themselves along with their arms), and swim up the tubes. This would allow merfolk to travel around in the city. The tubes would be more effective if they were filled with water, like a water slide, but this would be expensive and prevent two way travel on flat ground.

Likely there would be a public transport system, either from the government or used commercially, that would take merfolk and people to and from the beach, as each group would likely only own motorized transport in their own "home" area.

Socially there would likely be tension between the merfolk and the humans, like we have racial tension now. It is likely that the city would be ruled by a joint council of mer-people and humans. Laws would have to be made to protect both groups from the other, and officials would need to be watched for corruption.

Technologically the humans would probably have a higher focus on the water than we do now. More energy would be put into make humans be able to easily breathe/live in the water. Scientists might also focus on make the mer-people's transition to land easier too, though as the merfolk have lungs, this isn't as much of a problem.

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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that species tension could be played in reverse of this: part of how racial tension works in human society rests on "they're taking our jobs." That depends on equal abilities. But if there are gross physical differences, then division of labor is much easier to symbolize and accept structurally, at least if the two have known each other for a good while. $\endgroup$
    – CAgrippa
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 20:38

Think Venice (but with the water kept clean and non-polluted). The city could actually be built out over the sea so regular currents go through the canals to keep them clean. Alternatively if the merfolk can breath and survive in fresh water then rivers could be channeled through the city to help keep it clean.

The lower parts of the buildings would actually be underwater and have structures, rooms, etc inside them. They would be used by the merfolk while the upper parts would be above the water and used by the humans.

The merfolk would travel on the canals or use carts/palanquins to travel the roads. Humans would travel on the roads and use gondolas to travel the canals. Markets and shared common areas would be similar but on a smaller scale, with ornamental streams or channels sized for merfolk while paths and small bridges sized for humans go above.

Split property ownership could well be common, with merfolk owning the underwater section and humans owning the dry land section.

Children could play together with shallow water areas being popular, deep enough for merchildren to swim but shallow enough for human children to stand. They could well even develop their own custom games that need a mix of both human and merfolk on both teams.


"Forget you, Ursula. I'm going with Quickie."

Bette Midler and Lady Gaga already illustrated how integrating merpeople into a land town might work: mermaids in wheelchairs. So long as the land culture has invented the wheel, and the town is accessible to wheelchair users, merpeople would have little trouble getting around. (See accessibility on Travel SE for how this might be accomplished.) And if merpeople are integrated into the town's culture from day one, it'd be even smoother than the wheelchair access retrofitting you commonly see in the real world. Transfers in and out of the water could be done with canals leading into wheelchair garages. A quick Google search even turns up wheelchairs designed for beach use. Tubes for swimming up and down floors of a building would need airlocks, and I'm not sure how practical those would be, but water slides could still be used as fire exits for both humans and merpeople.

But just as parts of the town can be inaccessible to merpeople by using stairs, parts of the town can be inaccessible to humans by being underwater. It might for equity's sake have laws prohibiting public buildings from having substantial underwater areas on accessibility grounds, just as it has laws against relying exclusively on stairs. (This has precedent: the Visitability movement proposes extending accessibility laws even to private residences, and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 applies accessibility standards to multi-family housing in the United States.) So don't put rooms below sea level unless there are reasons to have rooms specific to merpeople, such as restrooms, or unless excluding humans serves your plot better.

In the real world, many public swimming areas prohibit use of fins. But in a town with substantial minority of merpeople, humans would normally be more likely to wear a monofin while swimming, and public swimming areas would have to allow that.

And as DonyorM alluded, assaults on wheelchair users would invoke racial overtones.


The town would probably be built really close to the ocean, or near a river. Houses would be both underwater and above-water. The Romans made a special type of concrete that hardened underwater; this could be used in the town.

Stores would be close to the river, and restaurant menus would have to be waterproof. Many stores might have a lower floor that was underwater, with a hole in the ceiling that led to the abovewater floor.

But what about merfolk stores? While the merfolk may be able to breathe above water, humans can't breathe underwater and I doubt most of them would be willing to jump in for some fresh fish or a shell necklace. So the merfolk would have a sign put above water advertising their shop and what they sell, and if someone rung a bell (or a similar method to alert the shopkeeper) the merfolk would surface and sell things that way.

There would be stations close to the water where merfolk could rent a specialized wheelchair and travel the surface more easily. I'm guessing their tails are fairly long, so the wheelchair would have to keep them above the ground so they aren't driving over their own tails.

Most houses would have a space above water and below it. In the majority of these spaces, the two areas would be separate, this method is just to conserve space. However, some merfolk and humans might want to live together (they could be married, dating, best friends, or roommates), and so the levels of the house would be connected, usually through a large hole in the living room floor of the abovewater section.


An example only because it exists, you might not be familiar, and it is quite recent:

If you watch the Fishman Island Arc of the show One Piece or read the manga you can see one artist's (Oda's) depiction. The species contains both fishmen (humanoid's with ugly fishlike characteristics) and merfolk (yeah, male and female mermaids). The city is still largely dependant on some kind of resin which lets them make bubbles that separate aquatic and air filled areas which can easily be passed through. There are vehicles for humans and devilfruit eaters to ride in. A large portion of the city consists of these air filled bubble regions separated by water (10,000 feet underwater if i remember right).

A lot of the mermaids spend time riding on lighter than air bubbles made from that resin. This makes little to know physical sense as the bubble would need to be much larger than they are but it is a anime-fantasy setting.

Sharkicane here we come

Above, for fun, is a shark, mermaid, and freaking giant merman riding a whale using this method to fly in the air. Notice the thin insubstanial innertube-like bubble they are using to fly.


One thing to keep in mind is that humans will likely prefer to be dry, and mer-people will likely prefer being in the water. I doubt mer-people would appreciate being forced onto land, as much as humans would hate having to use scuba-gear to go to the mer side of things. Each would have corresponding buildings in their own habitat for most things, but especially for their housing and local community stuff. Another reason is that disabled persons of both races would likely not be fit enough to get anywhere using the other's environment.

There may be some shared public areas, parks, and government buildings (if they share the same government) I imagine these areas would be about waist-high full of water, which is both inconvenient and possible for both species to navigate. Also, it may be poor form to invite a mer family to your human house, there may be shared "get-together" areas for meals and entertainment in a equally-enjoyable environment.

The moment humans start adding totally dry walkway areas, the mer people would like to have deeper ..swim-way.. areas - so it could end up being segregated anyway. Perhaps these areas are limited and kept open only to disabled members.

For those adventurous mer people who go on vacation to see the human side of things, I'm sure there could be some form of Walkers specifically designed for mer people to push themselves with tail and hands, or maybe even some type of bicycle or tricycle which uses their natural swimming motions to move.

Humans would continue using scuba gear.

You also need to put in some thought about what the mer-people are physically like. For instance, if they are similar to fish, their vertebrae move side to side and you likely would never find them being "upright" (consider that fish can only look forward and don't really bend in a way for their head to look up or down). This would affect how they have to approach and use things and therefore, the design of the shared areas. If they are similar to water-mammals such as whales then they would have an easier time making use of human chairs/stuff and could swim in less water due to their horizontal tails.

As a side-note, we'd have to do something better with some of our waste which ends up in the rivers, lakes, and oceans.


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