Although a huge problem, Rotterdam also sees the opportunities that arise with global climate change. The city is now serving as a worldwide example for other countries to combine climate management with urban development.
A big part of the Netherlands sits below sea level. Moreover, the country is gradually sinking. ‘We can’t just keep building higher dikes,’ Harold van Waveren, a senior government adviser says. ‘Instead we need to give the rivers more places to flow.’
And so there’s a nationwide program called ‘Room for the River’. Part of this is the ‘Eendragtspolder’, a patchwork of reclaimed fields and canals just outside of Rotterdam. It is the perfect example of a site built as a public amenity that collects floodwater in emergencies. ‘For us, climate change is beyond ideology,’ Rotterdam’s mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb adds, ‘because Rotterdam lies in the most vulnerable part of the Netherlands geographically. We have to learn to live with the water.’
So lately the city has pioneered the construction of facilities like parking garages that can serve as emergency reservoirs for overflowing rivers. It has also created plazas with fountains, gardens, and basketball courts that can act as retention ponds.
A safe port
Protecting the port of Rotterdam is essential as well. Being the most important port in Europe and a major source of income for the city, it accounts for 90,000 jobs and another 90,000 workers in related businesses.
Its security depends on the ‘Maeslantkering’, a monumental gate with two arms, resting on either side of the canal, each arm as tall and twice as heavy as the Eiffel Tower. It was built with the worst scenarios in mind, and is prepared for the most extreme climate changes, but Rotterdam still has plans to add another two feet to the height of the gate.
There are also other ways that Rotterdam is protecting its inhabitants against possible floods. A great example is the ‘Dakpark’, a dike in a poor, largely immigrant neighbourhood bordering the industrial waterfront. Before, the area around the Dakpark was a red-light district known for drug dealers and crime. Now the dike does a lot more than just protecting against water.
The Dakpark has a shopping centre and a park on the roof. It has helped the neighbourhood to develop, and is the perfect example of how to combine storm and water management with social welfare and neighbourhood improvement. Rotterdam is increasingly becoming the model of inventive urbanism, and is showing the rest of the world how you can combine climate management with urban development.
Source: NY Times