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Legal framework for sustainable floating city development: a case study of the Netherlands

Fen-Yu Lin, Otto Spijkers and Pernille van der Plank

Sustainable floating city development has recently gained increasing popularity as a serious solution to climate change threats and land scarcity faced in urban areas. While many design and engineering aspects have been widely studied and tested, social acceptance and legal issues have been relatively underemphasized. The legal aspects of floating city development are multifaceted, contextual and rather complicated. It involves different scales and levels of legislation and branches of law. This paper aims to identify the current legal framework at different levels, as well as the knowledge gaps that still need to be filled in order to make living (i.e. human settlement) at sea possible and regulated. Taking the Netherlands as a host nation example for floating city development, the research investigates into the status-quo and future challenges regarding international law (United Nations Law of the Sea Convention [LOSC]), national laws and property law. The results shed light on the complex interrelations between different scales and levels of laws that need to be taken into account for expanding cities on water. Recommendations on future research and regulatory actions needed to overcome the challenges and facilitate the realization of sustainable floating city development are provided.

KEYWORDS: legal framework, floating city development, United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, national law, property law


Fen-Yu Lin is a researcher, project coordinator and junior project manager working at Blue21 in the Netherlands. She holds a master’s degree in Climate Studies (Integrated Water management) from Wageningen University, and a minor in Entrepreneurship in Climate Studies. She obtained Climate-KIC Master’s label issued by European Institute of Innovation and Technology and has large interest and knowledge in water innovations which contribute to water sensitive urban design. Inspired by the ecological benefits and adaptative features of building on water, Fen-Yu has devoted herself into exploring opportunities and researching about challenges that need to be solved in order to make sustainable floating cities a reality. She believes in the power of multidisciplinary collaboration and visionary leadership and is currently the general chair in organizing Paving the Waves- 2nd World Conference on Floating Solutions 2020.

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