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Smart water management in a city surrounded by…water

A future water plaza in Rotterdam, in rainy times. Image source: BBC News.

Rotterdam, the second largest city in the Netherlands and a globally relevant port, is highly exposed to climate phenomena and to climate change impacts. With large sections of its area located below sea level, the region is facing increased rainfall, more frequent floods, sea level rise and increasing temperatures.

Aware of its vulnerabilities, the city as a whole has come together to make the climate threat an opportunity to enhance the city’s attractiveness, accessibility, knowledge, innovation and business potentials. Through an adaptation strategy titled ‘Rotterdam Climate Proof’, started in 2008, the city expects to achieve 100% resilience by 2025. The strategy is based on three pillars: Knowledge, Actions and Exposure. The knowledge foundation consists of enhancing the understanding of all stakeholders with respect to issues that are relevant to the city. These are, to a large extent, related to water management and to designing innovative solutions. The city dedicates efforts, too, to developing knowledge sharing networks, such asthe one called ‘Connecting Delta Cities’.

Rotterdam is also a city of Action, serving as a testing base for groundbreaking ideas on water management and delta technology. For instance, envisioned water plazas are especially designed to serve as recreation centers both in times of dry weather as well as of heavy rain – when the plaza provides theadditional service of water storage (images above and below). Another example: the district of Stadshavens will experience the development of floating constructions and adaptive buildings, which are likely to be, later on, best practice examples for coastal cities globally.

And precisely this point connects to the third pillar of the strategy: Exposure. Rotterdam seeks to show the world that difficulties can be overcome even when faced with significant obstacles; that delta cities can be resilient by cleverly embracing climate and non-climate challenges. In doing so, Rotterdam collaborates with higher levels of government in the Netherlands, as well as with cities and institutions abroad.

The three pillars of Rotterdam’s climate adaptation strategy are furtherelaborated into five themes, which are: flood management, accessibility, adaptive buildings, the urban water system, and the urban climate. Rotterdam’s case shows that resilience building and disaster risk preparedness require a thorough understanding of the local realities, relevant exchange of knowledge, and political and stakeholder leadership that supports the implementation of truly innovative solutions. Rotterdam is a living proof that challenging the traditional conceptualization of systems is increasingly becoming more of a need, and less of an option.

This case study was written by Daniel Morchain and appeared originally in the Explanatory Memorandum of the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities’ 22nd Session (8 February 2012), on “Making cities resilient”, and is based on Rotterdam’s adaptation strategy titled ‘Rotterdam Climate Proof’.

The same water plaza in dry times. Image source: BBC News.

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