While the Netherlands boasts some of the greenest urban environments, it is important to remember the local relationship between then landscape and its inhabitants over the past 2,000 years. For generations upon generations, the soil, sea, and sand have been manipulated in response to the needs of a growing society. Perhaps the most poignant statement illustrating this fact (and a quote all Dutch know) is attributed to the 18th century French philosopher Voltaire: “God created the world, but the Dutch created The Netherlands.” Without a doubt, water is the most transformative element in Dutch spatial planning and politics.
Historically, a number of large infrastructure projects working to protect the Dutch against the powerful bodies of water have been carried out (even Amsterdam’s Schliphol Airport sits below sea level on a reclaimed lake bed). Perhaps the most notable of these engineering fetes is the Zuiderzee project. Over the past centuries this body of water has been manipulated by both the Dutch and environmental forces. Once a sea, the area is now a lake separated by a dam constructed in the 1930s. Resulting control of water allowed the Dutch to create three polders (land that was once on the bottom of the sea, now viable land for agriculture and developments).
In the past, the Dutch have perceived water as something to push out or work around, rather than something to integrate, into infrastructure; however, policy in the last decade encourages planning and engineering professionals toward a perspective of “ruimte voor water” or making room for water. Beyond the push at the policy level, this new approach was marketed to the general public in order to shift the mindset of the Dutch about the pervasive water problems facing the nation.
While many of the water issues in the Netherlands are problems necessarily for engineers, what components of the landscape and urban design can be reinvented and regenerated by creative design and urban planning professionals? One of these projects is the new Iburg neighborhood east of Amsterdam. Consisting of a number of artificial islands and water houses (all infrastructure that can adapt to the fluctuating sea level), these neighborhoods have gone beyond functionality enlisting well-known architect designers contributing to the urban and house design. Already well populated, this new development may be the future of housing in the Netherlands (especially for the heavily populated western part of the country).
While this may be one solution for future, sustainable, water-based developments, can such an approach also be integrated into currently dense and urban areas?
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