In the waterlogged Netherlands, climate change is considered neither a hypothetical nor a drag on the economy. Instead, it’s an opportunity.

The Dutch are known for dominating the global market in high-tech engineering and water management, which hardly surprises anybody, as much of the nation sits below sea level and is gradually sinking. Now climate change brings the prospect of rising tides and fiercer storms.

Rotterdam is a city that has, however, turned this threat into an opportunity. Rotterdam has a new rowing course just outside the city, where the World Rowing Championships were staged last summer. The course forms part of an area called the Eendragtspolder, a 22-acre patchwork of reclaimed fields and canals — a prime example of a site built as a public amenity that collects floodwater in emergencies. It is near the lowest point in the Netherlands, about 20 feet below sea level. With its bike paths and water sports, the Eendragtspolder has become a popular retreat. Now it also serves as a reservoir for the Rotte River Basin when the nearby Rhine overflows, which, because of climate change, it’s expected to do every decade. The project is among dozens in a nationwide program, years in the making, called Room for the River, which overturned centuries-old strategies of seizing territory from rivers and canals to build dams and dikes. 

Another example is the Maeslantkering, built near the mouth of the sea and which serves as the city’s first line of defense. It is the size of two tubular Eiffel Towers, toppled over. In the 20 years since it opened, the Maeslantkering hasn’t actually been needed to prevent a flood, but it is tested regularly just in case.

Further, Rotterdam has pioneered the construction of facilities like the parking garages that become emergency reservoirs, ensuring that the city can prevent sewage overflow from storms now predicted to happen every five or 10 years. It has installed plazas with fountains, gardens and basketball courts in underserved neighborhoods that can act as retention ponds. It has also reimagined its harbors and stretches of its formerly industrial waterfront as incubators for new businesses, schools, housing and parks.

This in an extract from an article called The Dutch Have Solutions to Rising Seas. The World Is Watching. The article was originally posted on the website of the New York Times (15th June, 2017) and can be found here.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Grant Agreement No. 730052 Topic: SCC-2-2016-2017: Smart Cities and Communities Nature based solutions