Han Dijk of PosadMaxwan presents the “Healthy City” perspective of Rotterdam at Fairmount Water Works in Philadelphia. A delegation of Dutch companies, including Deltares, PosadMaxwan, and Rotterdam Centre for Resilient Delta Cities, showcased best practices and visionary urban design from Rotterdam. The Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York helped organize introductions and public events for the group during the ASLA 2018 Conference in Philadelphia. Photo: Erica DePalma, The Water Center at Penn.

By Nick Bijlsma and Carter Craft
Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York

The Netherlands is well known for centuries of water management, but every flood and storm teaches new lessons, enabling the strategy to evolve. With rising sea levels and other adverse effects of climate change happening in cities around the world, the approach of cities such as Rotterdam holds valuable lessons for other places looking to improve flood protection, cloudburst management, and heat resilience.

Based on more than 800 years of living on the water’s edge, and in the largest delta in northern Europe, the Dutch see water as both an asset and an occasional vulnerability (known as the Delta paradox). Rotterdam, the largest port of Europe, continues to embrace water as its central identity in economic development. Home to more than 600,000 people, Rotterdam shows that dealing with and profiting from the water can go together.

Landscape interventions aimed at flood protection

The Dutch delegation, including Deltares, PosadMaxwan and the Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in New York, together with Howard Neukrug (holding book), founder of The Water Center at Penn.

While surge barriers and dikes are famous and historic Dutch examples of hard infrastructure to prevent flooding, flood risk and principles of sustainable water management demand a much wider variety of tools.

Trends are evolving around the world to go green, rather than just gray, whenever possible. Hard barriers can be effective in some places, but they are not always suitable.

Cities, bays, and coastal zones all require different approaches. The best strategy links natural, built and social systems, as well as local and regional scales. There is no one size that fits all.

In urban areas, where the people live and economic activity is concentrated, it is important to find creative ways to make the city more resilient to the effects of climate change.

Earlier this month, a delegation from the Netherlands came to Philadelphia to participate in the American Society of Landscape Architecture 2018 annual meeting. In an education session organized as part of the conference, the Dutch team discussed “Water as Leverage” based on their diverse experiences working in an around Rotterdam.

Leading example of the “Water Square” in Benthemplein, Rotterdam. Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode.

One way to build climate resilience into a dense urban landscape is to introduce nature-based solutions into public spaces, such as streets, plazas, and squares. Green infrastructure, such as green parks, green roofs, and bioswales are solutions based on nature, and can create a large capacity of storing water when connected with more local fabric and scaled up in size.

“Water squares” and green and blue districts have to be examined as part of a thoughtful spatial framework.

Before realizing a project, a large amount of analysis and discussion needs to take place with local stakeholders and leaders.

These discussions need to be informed by the best available planning and decision support tools available, and at last linked to a viable economic and social framework to ensure high-quality operations and maintenance.

The 2019 American Society of Landscape Architecture conference will take place November 15-18 in San Diego, CA.