October 05 2012

Working with the Tide: Amsterdam’s Battle Against Rising Sea Levels

Afsluitdijk dam on the Zuiderzee

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.

Floating house Amsterdam

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?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Ellen Schwaller

Ellen Schwaller is a former GRID blogger and graduate of Arizona State University's master's program in Urban and Environmental Planning. Spending most of her life in the sprawling sunbelt, it was a recognized desire for human-centered rather than auto-centered places that drew her to the planning field. With a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Science, she looks for ways to integrate the natural and built environments to create spaces and neighborhoods that matter. A large part of her research has been in the realm of residential perception and attitudes and how this might inform city and neighborhood planning and design.

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This entry was posted on Friday, October 5th, 2012 at 8:25 pm and is filed under Engineering, Environment, Environmental Design, Housing, Infrastructure. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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