Floating City Apps: Sustainable Solutions for Urban Slums

Floating City Apps is designed with places such as this river slum in India in mind.

A Dutch architecture studio has devised a range of floating solutions to provide urban slums with sanitation, electricity, health care and other basic services, while also reducing the slums' waste problem at the same time. How?

Autor*in Annalisa Dorigo, 10.04.17

A Dutch architecture studio has devised a range of floating solutions to provide urban slums with sanitation, electricity, health care and other basic services, while also reducing the slums’ waste problem at the same time. How?

Dutch architecture firm Waterstudio’s initiative Floating City Apps Foundation was born to provide slum communities living near or on water with a range of basic services, such as sanitation, healthcare, waste collection and electricity.

Indeed, for over 800 million people living in urban slums – most of which are close to open water – basic services such as healthcare, sanitation and electricity are anything but basic. Floating City Apps has come up with the simple yet clever idea of using standard sea-freight containers and turning them into functional hubs for education, healthcare, sanitation or waste collection service-provision.

An Integrated and Scaleable Approach to Improving Access to Services

The containers are brought to location by sea cargo and installed on top of steel frame floating foundations which are built from recycled PET bottles. These floating foundations not only help reduce the amount of plastic waste which afflicts urban slums, but they also allow the desired containers to be added easily as and when needed.

Floating foundations allow flexible units to be created, which can be added to those parts of the slums where they are needed the most, and removed when they are no longer required.

Six units, or City Apps, are currently available: communication, sanitation, healthcare, community kitchen, waste collection, construction – although of course the idea is for the choice to grow and adapt to local needs – and these can be added and/or removed easily from locations with minimal or no environmental disruption. Resource poor communities in water slums are set to benefit from efficient, reusable, adjustable and easily scaleable solutions, and indeed the name Floating City Apps reflects that through them, slum access to services can be upgraded much in the way as a smart phone functionality is improved by adding apps.

In the words of co-founder Koen Olthuis:

“I think the current generation of architects really wants to help, they want to make a difference. If you tell the story of one billion people living in slums in places like Thailand, India, Bangladesh — where water is threatening those people and no one is helping them because anything that gets built can be wiped out by the next tsunami — we think, well we have to help those people. The City Apps project — retrofitted shipping containers floating on trash — is a system where we bring in floating schools, sanitation, electricity, water treatment facilities, bakeries, internet cafes, or whatever is most needed. We can connect these floating functions to the slums or disaster sites and they will slowly help upgrade these areas.”

A Floating Waste Bank and a Community-Resilience Tool in Jakarta

Through their Floating Waste Bank initiative in Jakarta for example, communities are encouraged to swap their waste for cash, phone credits or health care services. And in collaboration with local social entrepreneurs, who lease the waste unit, workshops on flood resilience and recycling are also organised. These not only empower local residents to deal with key issues, but also support local entrepreneurship, help clean up the local environment and – by reducing waste clogging up the water system – can help reduce floods.

To see how the Communication Floating City App is helping slum communities in Kampala, Uganda, take a look at the following video.

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According to a UN Habitat forecast, two thirds of the world's population will live in cities by 2030. Not least because of their population density, cities have become a huge focal point when it comes to sustainable development.