Connecting Delta Cities


Webblog: Georgia Rubenstein - Thursday March 14, 2013 Rotterdam + RDM


As we’ve traveled around the Netherlands over the past few days, we’ve seen countless examples of the Dutch innovating, managing, and planning their way out of their country’s great water challenges – and turning a problem into an opportunity. Water is both friend and foe, simultaneously providing and threatening to destroy transportation channels, rich agricultural areas, and land that many people call home. The city of Rotterdam, characterized by its fifty-kilometer port, modern urban landscape, and relatively large population, has a unique set of water challenges. But, as we’ve seen time and again in the Netherlands, through addressing these challenges Rotterdam is finding new opportunities for economic growth and improving the lives of its citizens.

Our first stop today was City Hall to meet with Chantel Oudkerk Pool of Climate Proof, who talked with us about the organization’s work to develop a climate change adaptation strategy for Rotterdam. The water management challenges the city already faces are expected to grow with climate change, as precipitation patterns and river discharge rates change, sea levels rise, and groundwater levels fluctuate more significantly than in the past. Through its climate change adaptation work, Rotterdam hopes to be “climate proof” by the year 2025 – finding ways to minimize the negative impacts of climate change while benefiting as much as possible from new opportunities. Planning for climate change adaptation is complex; the science of creating climate scenarios continue to change, predicting how various consequences of climate change will interact with one another is difficult, and tough conversations need to take place. How should Rotterdam decide, for example, how many floods each year will be tolerated, or how to prioritize adaptation efforts with limited resources? Despite these questions, the city has already begun to take action, protecting itself from the threat of increased flooding while creating multifunctional solutions and beautiful public spaces. An underground water storage space, for example, doubles as a parking garage, while an urban floodplain has been designed as a wide green promenade with benches, bridges, and public art.

Next, we hurried to the ferry and headed down the port to the RDM Campus, where the Port of Rotterdam is undertaking a large redevelopment effort. With the motto “cooperation in innovation at a historical location,” the campus is a collaborative space that houses educational institutions and manufacturing companies, provides learning and training opportunities, and promotes research, design, and economic growth. Just as Climate Proof has created new land use opportunities out of the challenge of climate change, the RDM Campus has tackled its own set of challenges – including faltering public support for ports, a shortage of skilled workers, and strained relations with port neighbors – by finding opportunity in a new use of its accessible, well-equipped location.

After spending the past few days exploring innovative water management in a historic context – the construction of polders, or the building of Amsterdam’s canals – it was interesting to see the same themes reappearing in a modern context, as the Dutch look to the future to face a new set of challenges.


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