Transformation to Water Resilient Cities versus “Business as Usual”: The Challenge for Urban Managers

Start date

Wednesday 28 Feb 2018, 13:30

End date

Wednesday 28 Feb 2018, 15:30

T14-classroom 1 & 2
Spoken Language

City governments all over the world are by now more aware than before of the threats posed by climate change and disasters and the urgent need for greater resilience thinking – including the critical challenges of water management and water safety in this context. 

A number of high profile cities are indeed undertaking the necessary changes, big and small, to make the transformation to water resilient cities. A notable case in point is the 100 Resilient Cities Network, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Cities such as Rotterdam, for example, have developed the Rotterdam Climate Change Adaptation Strategy.

However, in the majority of cities, a “business as usual” mindset still dominates, where investments and decision-making are guided not by longer-term resilience measures but by the short-term incentives of greater profits presented by “highest and best use land development”. As a result, in too many urbanizing areas, housing developments are appearing in precarious areas such as natural flood water retention areas, unbridled high-rise development is causing record levels of land subsidence, and drainage systems fail to be expanded to cope with increasing flood waters.

The public lecture will address a critical conundrum facing many cities, which can be roughly described as short-term profits versus long-term adaptation. The keynote speaker will address the following questions: How much damage is “business as usual” urban development doing to the planet? What can be done, and who is responsible? How can city governments and their partners in the private sector be incentivized to plan for the long term—and for better coordination between economy, ecology and society? How can adaptation measures and new planning and land governance approaches be introduced that will prioritize resilience rather than rampant land development? What kind of win-win measures exist, and how can they be implemented?  

Following the keynote address, a small panel composed of Master’s students will make short interventions to support and/or challenge the speaker based on experiences from their own practice and case studies.


Henk Ovink

Special Envoy for International Water Affairs
for the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Mr Ovink previously held the position of Deputy Director-General of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs at the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, and Director of National Spatial Development. Mr Ovink currently serves as a senior advisor to the American Federal Government and the former Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Taskforce instituted by President Obama. For the reconstruction of the New York and New Jersey region, he developed and lead the ‘Rebuild by Design’ contest, which CNN designated as one of the most innovative ideas of 2013. Currently, 15 Dutch companies and organisations are working on the implementation of the winning projects. Mr Ovink has a long record of service in the business community, education and the government in the fields of spatial planning, water management and culture. Among other activities, he has served as Curator to the 5th International Architecture Bienniale Rotterdam, he sits on the International Advisory Board of the city of Rotterdam, he teaches at Harvard GSD and he advises the Rockefeller Foundation regarding their approach to resilience and water safety.

More information

This public lecture is part of the Urban Land Governance specialization within the Urban Management and Development MSc programme at IHS.