I stuck my nose suspiciously through the metal gates of the construction site, enthralled by the lawn-mower like machines that were hovering over the wet concrete to make it as flat as slate. I was looking at the mid-stages of the construction of a waterplein, a public square that doubles as a water storage basin during heavy rains.

It must of been a combination between backwards baseball and my shorts that gave me away. Only foreigners expose their calves in late September. I was being noticed by three men behind me. Two of them in construction garb, taking a cigarette break, the other looked older and slightly more distinguished. They acknowledged me in Dutch, as if they’ve gotten used to strangers taking interest in this unique construction project. The project has been highlighted all over the press in such things as Tracy Metz’s book ‘Sweet and Salt’ and a small documentary on NBC.

I gave my puzzled, ‘I don’t understand Dutch,’ look. I’ve gotten so good at casting that simple eyebrow raise that reveals so much in a useful instant. One guy transitioned to English. We chatted some small talk for a bit–the weather, the good looking blonde that just rode by–until I got the confidence to ask him if I could walk around the construction site and take some pictures:

It turned out that guy I was talking to was the construction manager of the project.


After I walked around for a bit, I asked him some questions about the waterplein. The parks is essentially three ‘containers’ dug into the ground. When dry, they are dressed with areas for shrubs, trees, and other greenery, as well as sports fields and amphitheater seating areas. During the dry season the park is a public square, but when there is an abundance of rain, the park fills up and relieves the sewer system. Runoff from the buildings, sidewalks, and roads flows towards the three basins where it can be stored. Rotterdam is already in a precariously low lying area and therefore extremely vulnerable to flooding. This structure mitigates the risk.

The park is part of Rotterdam’s climate adaptation strategy put forward by the Rotterdam Climate Initiative. The strategy has six simple objectives:

  1. The city and the port are protected against flooding.
  2. Rotterdam a livable, attractive city to reside in.
  3. The port is accessible with minimal risk of disruption.
  4. Residents are minimally affected by a lack or a surplus of precipitation.
  5. Residents are aware of the consequences of climate change and what they can do themselves to adapt.
  6. Climate adaptation strengthens the city economically and enhances its strong ‘delta city’ image. ]

A key to the climate adaptation plan is to merge water management with urban development. The water plaza is a great example of this plan being put into action.

After reading about the city’s climate adaptation plan, I realized that the waterfront dike along the Maas River is another brilliant example of a multi-functional flood defense. I’ve biked, skateboarded, and jogged along the riverfront park dozens of times, but finally realized the smart landscape architecture in play.

Image 5

Here I drew it in plan and section. It has a running track, grassy seating, steps, trees. It provides a great place to kick a ball around, have a picnic, read, or just enjoy the views of the city. At the same time, it’s shaped like a dike and allows room for water when there are high river levels. It keeps the river away from the business district behind it.

I miss my friend Gus so I drew his picture:

Image 6

Here are some other nice photos of my walk around the city:

Also had a nice chat with this cabby:


He’s a captain for a watertaxi. If there’s water everywhere, then it’s quite an efficient way to get around. Because Rotterdam is bisected by the river, the water taxi fleet is perfect for high-speed, jam-free and spectacularly fun rides to destinations around the city. A ride is quite expensive so the target customers are mostly tourists, mayors, secretaries, celebrities, the kings and queens, but they don’t discriminate and will always take an average Joe trying to impress their lady-friend, Jane. He told me on average he gives about sixteen rides a day.

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