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Is there any way that a town or city could exist that has interconnecting houses floating on a body of water?

I once read in a novel about a small village like that in a swamp, and was wondering if a similar thing could be adapted to a larger scale to exist on an ocean/sea/lake.

Conditions for existing:

  • It would be a town/small city of different families living together peacefully, and would travel between different ports to trade.

  • It is made up of individual houses/buildings that exist on their own floating vessel, that are interconnected with bridges to other adjacent vessels.

  • Its main source of food is fishing, which it also uses to trade in the port cities for items they require.

  • Normal towns and cities still exist on land.

  • There are other towns/cities that are the same, and whilst not having any government that presides over these towns/cities there is a mutual understanding between them that they are civil with each other and do not attack each other (generally).

  • They can live out at sea for up to months at a time without having to visit dry land.

  • It exists in a medieval era world.

  • It can distill fresh water from sea water using sunlight as an energy source.

  • Children do not necessarily stay living in these towns/cities when they are grown up, but many of them do. Other new families/individuals also sometimes join an existing flotilla, but only if they are trusted.

  • Whilst there are other fishing boats, they generally stick close to land for shallow water fishing, and do not generally venture out for longer than a day. Deep-fishing boats cannot compete with the capacity that these towns have for getting the fish that do not live close to shore.

  • Trade and passenger ships still exist to get people and objects from one town to another, as they offer a direct route for delivery. They can also visit the floating towns, but it is unlikely they would find a specific one because they could be anywhere out at sea.

Considerations for existing:

  1. What is the most reasonable body of water such a town/city could exist on? Would an ocean have too volatile weather conditions for it to survive a large storm? Would a lake not offer enough fishing opportunities for it to survive? What conditions would a planet where this type of town exists need to have?

  2. To avoid scurvy, would it need its own farm using bought soil to grow vegetables for the long periods living out at sea? Would it be possible to have such farms out at sea to grow vegetables if there is ample fresh water?

  3. What is the largest size such a city could grow to? Would it eventually break down as a society? Would it have to split itself into two smaller towns when it gets to a particular size?

  4. How would such a floating collection of vessels travel? Would they need to co-ordinate a series of sails, or could they operate from a single large sail? Would they need to use oars?

  5. Are there any other considerations that I have overlooked that need to be considered for such a society to exist?

I also asked a question here about what a person would be like if they lived or grew up in such a city.

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    $\begingroup$ That's a lot of questions. Maybe you should break this up and ask for answers to specific questions, rather than lump them all in one. (And don't forget to link them all for the bigger picture.) $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Apr 7 '15 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ Is that enough fewer questions? All the questions left are specifically about whether a city like this could exist, rather than the people living in such a city, which I made into another question. $\endgroup$ – Mike.C.Ford Apr 7 '15 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ Physically, it's probably doable, but economically, probably not. Cities need all kinds of materials to function that you aren't going to have at sea. So, you'll have to trade for just about everything and you have nothing but fish to trade with. Meanwhile, the coastal towns that are trade accessible have fish of their own, plus local land resources, and they need less materials for maintaining their homes. So they might buy some fish, especially deep sea fish, but they are in a position of power, and don't need to pay much for them. I just can't see it working in sea-town's favor. $\endgroup$ – Bryon Apr 7 '15 at 15:10
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    $\begingroup$ That said, I have always fantasized about such an island anyway, and I'd love to see it work. I think you need something extra to give it a reason to exist, though. Maybe the inhabitants have some unique technology/magic/divine intervention that gives them an edge. Something they can market to coastal towns without giving away the knowledge/ability that makes it possible. Whatever this 'something' is could require long periods over deep water. $\endgroup$ – Bryon Apr 7 '15 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ You might be interested in the video Seasteading & Artificial Islands by sci-fi author Isaac Arthur. $\endgroup$ – Theraot May 26 at 1:53
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Does it help to know at least 15 and probably many more of these already exist?

http://weburbanist.com/2012/08/20/water-worlds-15-real-floating-towns-ocean-cities/

Not sure if all of those qualify for what you are looking for...I'd go with the Thai one built on stilts as it is more independent from land. I think the number would be significantly higher if the Tsunami in '05 didn't wipe a few of them out too. They are not modern cities, nor do they have huge standing skyscrapers poking out. Instead it's more of a flotilla of buildings and ships stuck together.

Phuket (Thailand) is another great example and is one of my favorite destinations

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  • $\begingroup$ I really like the Halong Bay Floating Village in Vietnam, That was the kind of thing I was going for but possibly bigger, and on a larger body of water, but that is a great jumping off point. $\endgroup$ – Mike.C.Ford Apr 8 '15 at 9:37
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You got a lot a questions about our city, and like any grounder, you'r probably expecting that we've got answers for you. But that's not the way things work out here. Out here on the water, everything's always moving. There are no answers. We just do what we have to, to survive.

Let's get the tourist crap out of the way first. Why are we here? We ran from shore to escape the black plaque. Three hundred boats of all shapes and sizes. We travelled together into the ocean's blue water, then waited to see which boats had brought plague with them. The boats with sickness and their crews, burned and then sank, and we've been plague free ever since.

Water was our first challenge. We didn't have nearly enough but we couldn't go back for more. So we sent a scout back into the nearest river mouth, to fill up jugs and water bags. That worked for a while, then our merlin created a way to boil sea water with sunshine. The water missions weren't needed anymore. During the winter, when the sun gets small, we bring back the water missions, visiting rivers for clean, sweet water. It's like I said. No answers, but we survive.

Storms? Yeh, they'r a problem. It's no fun to be out on the water in a storm. Still, there's usually some warning. Some of the older sailers, our elders, watch the horizon for signs of trouble. We can usually get most of our boats out of the way if we're warned. If a boat isn't fast enough, or the wind is wrong and it has nor oars, that boat's crew will join a faster ship and they'll leave the slow boat to the storm.

Are we a city? maybe. We're more a collection of boats or maybe a fleet. But if you like the word "city", go ahead and use it. Only don't be confused. Our homes don't stay at any fixed address. We move around as we need to. Even among ourselves, we are always in motion; just like the sea.

How big can we get? I don know. People come and go. Smaller fleets join up and sometimes we splinter up. We always split up when its time to trade with one of the shore towns. A couple dozen boats, some with weapons, others with wares, seperates from the whole and heads in shallow to represent us. Those are the best kinds of separations, because we all know that we'll join up again soon, once the trading is done.

Yeh, life at sea has its challenges, but it is a good way to live. No rules, no boundaries and no answers. We just survive.

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As Dustin Jackson said, people are working on it now.

A modular city would probably be best. Each block is a separate piece that can disconnect from its neighbors and move off independently.

This would be useful during storms, since the bigger something is, the more structure/stronger materials need to used, especially when designing for torquing stress from waves. After the storm the city would reassemble.

enter image description here

This would also allow the city to grow easily, and be restructured if needed. Need to add more businesses, just build more business tiles and push one of the residential tiles out. Farm tiles could be added as well for produce and vitamin C.

The biggest hurdle would be navigation. The currents would be able to push it pretty good, and sails could be added, but you wouldn't want to get very close to land if possible. It would eventually be something of a nomad ship, going where the currents take it. Probably not have set trade routes/schedules. However, they could have ships that travel between land ports and the city, which means it wouldn't need to move much.

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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer.....just for the record though, that picture is soooooo cliche. Seen it on half a million sites :) $\endgroup$ – the_OTHER_DJMethaneMan Apr 7 '15 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ @DustinJackson Not my original work! I guess I could put that in the answer... but it's just a visual aid. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 7 '15 at 15:49
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Believe it or not we are already working on such projects. The SeaSteading Institute is working on making a floating city that you are looking for. While it will be as expensive as hell to live in one and dangerous as hell with all the crazy whether caused by global warming I see no reason why they COULDN'T exist. I do see a practical reason to not build one.

The main reason is, as stated above, the massive storms caused by warmer, larger oceans will destroy all but the most well-built cities. With no direct avenue inland to escape anyone living there will be, for for lack of a more appropriate term, SOL.

EDIT:

Instead of making them above water, build your cities underwater like so. The underwater cities could house up to 5,000 people comfortably and are nearly totally self-sustainable. They will also fare better against the currents than a city against massive waves.

You could also do an in-between and make your city be submersible to handle storms...new hurricane? Let's go to the lower levels and submerge! When the storm passes re-surface. You might be able to genetically engineer a species of grass to use saltwater and survive temporary submersion. Add drains to all of your metallic/stone houses.

I am not totally sure how you would protect your furniture but you could in theory install water-proof wrappers of some kind. If you really need your city to be mobile I suggest having a spiral docking bay where your city can connect and disconnect. Hope this helps ;)

EDIT....TAKE 2:

As I missed the Medieval tech requirement I am updating my answer.

I do not believe that a floating city is possible. I do however know for a fact that there have been cities founded in swamps that utilize waterways. Take Venice as your chief example. It was founded in a swamp/Archipelago to escape the cavalry-oriented Huns and other barbarian factions. This gives you both a real-world example and a reason for it coming into being.

Another real world example of a civilization doing this is the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán. To make a long story short the Aztec killed a princess of a powerful tribe, they were exiled to a swampy island, and they build a massive, thriving metropolis.

They used a method similar to that in @AndyD273's answer. They had floating sections of wood that they piled dirt onto to farm as well as artificial housing built on wooden foundations.

Again, I hope this helps you come up with ideas.

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  • $\begingroup$ One way to help with the massive storm issue would be to make sections of the city modular, and disconnect it when a storm is coming. Each section would be self sufficient, sealed water tight, and maybe submersible? After the storm passed the pieces would reconnect. Because the pieces are smaller, they wouldn't have to be as strong as a single giant city ship would have to be. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 7 '15 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 make sections of the city modular, and disconnect it when a storm is coming. And then you end with the storm launching the section against sand beaches and bars (best option) or against rocks or one section against other (worst option). $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Apr 7 '15 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ @AndyD273 I think that the Japanese version mentioned in my edit would be the most stable city-type....except it can't move. $\endgroup$ – the_OTHER_DJMethaneMan Apr 7 '15 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @SJuan76 You wouldn't want to get anywhere near land with any kind of floating city. Instead you'd stay out a little ways and have smaller boats/ships to go into port to do the trading. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 7 '15 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ @DustinJackson Underwater does make sense... Something I missed the first time was that it's a medieval era world, which limits things a bit. You are right, I don't think you'd want it to move much. It would be much better out to sea, and then have trade ships to go to whatever port you were close to, instead of trying to brave rocks, reefs, small harbors, etc. $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Apr 7 '15 at 15:46
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Since the most plausible way for such a "city" to exist would be a refugee fleet fleeing from some sort of disaster/threat from land, the social structure would be built around protecting the fleet from the threat, and eventually channeling the paranoia/aggression back against the land; you have just created a pirate fleet!

Even on the largest semi plausible ships (something like the Chinese "Treasure Fleet" junks), there simply isn't enough room to grow crops, raise livestock or carry a large supply of raw materials such as bar stock for blacksmiths to make the metal fittings for the ships. Life aboard would be very austere, with fairly severe rationing in effect for much of a resident's life.

Sighting the shore or strange vessels would be an occasion for rejoicing, since there is now a chance to jump aboard the raiding boats and get fresh supplies of whatever you are short of. The pirates from the fleet will be much fiercer than the sorts of pirates we know from our history, since they don't have a secure base on short to go back to, and their need for "booty" will be far greater than the usual tropes of gold and slave wenches; they will essentially swoop down like locusts. The pirate fleet will send large raiding parties which include engineers, pioneers and other specialists who can rapidly disassemble buildings and machinery, cut down trees and rip apart hiding places to get the most useful items.

For the people living on land, life will be much like the Mediterranean Sea after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Most settlements during that time moved inland to escape from the predations of the Islamic raiders, and remaining ports built up impressive defences to keep corsairs at bay.

In a world where there are one or more pirate fleets like that on the ocean, the land dwellers will either retreat from the shore and build massive defences where they cannot retreat, or start building fleets to hunt down the pirates if they depend on sea trade (the Serenìsima Repùblica Vèneta did both). Eventually the pirates will be overwhelmed, since they don't have the numbers or resources to resist for long periods of time (A ship from a land based power with access to shipyards can be easily replaced, while a pirate ship cannot).

I suspect that after a short time, the fleet would develop a sort of symbiotic relationship with one of the land based polities in order to access land and resources, and the bulk of the people will settle back on the shore of "their" new nation.

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I'm not even going to try to address that wall of questions. So I will limit myself to the first half of question #2.

To avoid scurvy, would it need its own farm using bought soil to grow vegetables for the long periods living out at sea?

Addressing the scurvy issue: lacto-fermentation produces Vit C. So pickles, sauerkraut, kim chee, etc. It's also a really good way to preserve vegetables in a place where you can't get them fresh. So win-win. It also produces other nutrients the body needs.

Looking at the second half of question #2:

Would it be possible to have such farms out at sea to grow vegetables if there is ample fresh water?

Yes. Boats can have gardens. Ones that produce enough to provide significant fresh produce (not everything one needs, but a good portion of it). Wall containers are an excellent choice on a boat as they don't take much soil (you leave out the soil that is just filler between plants), aren't very heavy, and don't take up much space.

Another easy source of produce is sprouts. If kept dry, seeds last a long time. You can make sprouts from seeds in just a few days with nothing but a jar, a piece of cloth, a piece of string, and fresh water.

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