EUR, Erasmus MC and TU Delft work together towards a resilient Rotterdam region

Interview

The Resilient Delta Initiative is a research and education partnership between Erasmus University Rotterdam, Erasmus MC and Delft University of Technology. The objective is to develop an integrated approach to address the major social issues with which the Rotterdam region is increasingly struggling, as well as to offer an example for regions elsewhere in the world. Two involved professors, Professor Victor Bekkers and Professor Marcel Hertogh, explain.


Professor Victor Bekkers is Professor of Public Administration and Dean of Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB). Bekkers conducts research into policy and policy processes, and IT and innovation issues in these areas.

Professor Marcel Hertogh is Professor of Integrated Design at Delft University of Technology. Hertogh is Chair of the Delft research initiative ‘Deltas, Infrastructures and Mobility’, which studies how the city of the future will look.

What is the Resilient Delta Initiative and what is its aim?

Hertogh: “If you look at the societal challenges we are currently facing, we need broader knowledge and more disciplines than are available at one university. The Resilient Delta Initiative stands for collaboration between Erasmus University Rotterdam, Erasmus MC and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), as well as with societal partners including municipalities, the port and other companies. The ultimate goal is to make the region more resilient. Only together can we form a city of the future.”

Bekkers: “Cities and regions are facing an increasing number of societal challenges. How do cities handle climate change and shape the energy transition? How do they deal with viruses such as the coronavirus? And immigration? Poverty and its effects? These examples of societal challenges are sometimes multi-headed monsters. If you pull on one string, everything starts to shift. Poverty in a city is related to access within the city and the physical environment, as well as to access to healthcare and information about healthy living, or opportunities on the labour market. That is why collaboration between disciplines and between universities is important. If you want to do something to address poverty, it helps if you can use technology. But architecture, psychology or medical knowledge are also important.”

Hertogh: “The Resilient Delta Initiative was also established because this region can serve as inspiration for other regions at home and abroad. It’s clear that many deltas such as Jakarta or Bangkok, but also smaller areas such as Venice, face similar problems.
And education is an important aspect. Rotterdam and Delft students collaborate on these themes in living labs. It’s inspiring to have students from various disciplines collaborate on concrete challenges; they often come up with innovative ideas, even ideas professionals cannot think of.”

“Societal challenges are sometimes multi-headed monsters. If you pull on one string, everything starts to shift”

Why is this partnership particularly important now?

Bekkers: “There have always been challenges in society. But the nature of the challenges is changing, and the challenges increasingly involve many different disciplines. The energy transition is not only about the depletion of energy or gas, but also about how to change the behaviour of people or companies. Moreover, these challenges are what we call ‘glocal’; global challenges with specific local manifestations in the region.”

Hertogh: “Several challenges are, however, specific for this era, such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the depletion of raw materials. We don’t have much time left. According to some climate experts, we have no more than ten years to turn the tide. With such a time pressure, collaboration is more important than ever.”

Are you making the region resilient for the next coronavirus?

Bekkers: “We are looking at how to design the region or healthcare in such a way that we can handle another virus outbreak much better. How can we adapt our society and respond to potential societal disruptions?"

Hertogh: “There are developments that we can already predict, but there are certain to be challenges that we have not yet envisaged. The idea of resilience is that you are better able to handle the unexpected. Collaboration with the municipality, the port and other parties is therefore crucial.”

Bekkers: “Yes, the focus is not only on research, but also on actual co-creation with other partners. We aim to develop different approaches and to test these too. Learn from experience and make adaptations. The region as living lab.”

“As students from various disciplines collaborate on concrete challenges, they often develop innovative ideas”

There is increasing collaboration between disciplines or universities; what makes this Initiative different?

Bekkers: “What is unique about our partnership is that, with TU Delft, Erasmus MC and EUR, we actually have all disciplines together in one region.”

Hertogh: “We don’t want to limit ourselves to shorter projects, but aim for long-term collaboration so that we have real impact in the region.”

What does the work actually involve?

Bekkers: “We’ve identified three areas in which the theme of resilience is interesting. The first area is the port and the energy transition there. Oil and gas are still dominant. How can the port use technological innovation to improve its efficiency? The second area is Rotterdam as a city. We aim to zoom in on issues in Rotterdam Zuid, which is a focal point of a combination of complex situations relating to immigration, health, poverty and education. The third area is the region: how will it handle a new coronavirus outbreak in the future? How should we approach climate issues or rising sea levels? We aim to bring scientists, social partners and companies together to address these three areas. We are currently defining our concrete actions and the projects we’re going to establish.”

Professor