Category Archives: Rotterdam

Rotterdam and the Maeslant Barrier

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Tracy Metz, Amsterdam Framer, and Koen Olthuis

Here’s an excerpt of the match report Archie, my roommate from Glasgow wrote. I didn’t play because of the egg sized mound I grew on my forehead after getting knee’d in the head last weekend. I’m traveling quite a lot in October and I want to keep the limited mental capabilities I have working in ship shape. But still I got a shout-out!

The game started brightly for the Rotterdammers, within 5 minutes putting pressure on the men from Utrecht. The ball was snapped out inside the 22 from captain Mikey ‘12:30 SHARP’ Hornby to stand-off ‘Uncle’ Archie Pollock, pop-passing to new boy Sander Korel, who bashed his way through 3 defenders to crash down for 5 points. It was the first showing of a strong game from the young upstart Korel, who was to finish as joint man of the match. More points soon followed, as Dirk ‘here comes the hot stepper’ de Raaff ghosted by the Panther defense, breaking his side stepping virginity past one player in a particularly strong solo run. The step was so powerful however, that it damaged his tendons, and de Raaff will now be sidelined for several months, along with other notable injuries Pieter ‘we score more points, we win de game’ Joosse, Frank ‘crabhand’ Nijenhuis, ‘Bram the tram’ van den Pasch, and ‘so good they named him thrice’ Samuel David Bruce, who expertly donned the club bear mascot outfit and added at least 10 points to the score line.

Proof:

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On friday I took the train up to Amsterdam to meet Tracy Metz, a journalist who recently published a book called ‘Sweet and Salt: Water and the Dutch.’ The book is a beautiful artifact. It explains how the Netherlands’ manages its complex and dynamic relationship with water and points out what the rest of the world can learn from the Dutch. Alongside co-author Maartje van den Heuvel, Metz’s writing and use of photography, art-historical analysis, and architectural design shows how the Netherlands’ battle with both sweet (fresh) and salt water has evolved over the centuries.

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Her book has put her into the global spotlight. She’s the spokesperson at water management conferences, a lecturer all over universities in the U.S., and a go-to for journalists and writers investigating these issues. Although she described herself as “no expert,” she certainly is.

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Here is one of my drawings featured on Metz’s twitter:

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Ms. Metz told me that she is shell-shocked about the success she’s had on her book. She hears her name called all over the place, but automatically thinks ‘who? me?’ We talked for an hour about the research I’ve done so far. She seemed to enjoy flipping through my sketchbook. Her lunch date at the end of my hour with her was with the Consul General of the United States in Amsterdam, Randy Berry. From the State Department: Mr. Berry’s career with the State Department has also taken him to postings in Bangladesh, Egypt, Uganda (twice), and South Africa, as well as Washington DC.  Mr. Berry holds a State Department Superior Honor Award, and is a nine-time Meritorious Honor Award recipient.  He speaks Spanish and Arabic. It was very cool to get to shake his hand and tell him about my Watson project. He told me he could connect me with some people in places I’m heading out to later on in the year.

Later on that Friday afternoon, I stumbled by a print shop. Reproductions of old maps of Amsterdam caught my eye. I went inside and started chatting with the shop owner, an Amsterdammer who has lived in the city his whole life. I never caught his name, but he started telling me some pretty interesting things–his hypotheses about why the Dutch are the way they are. Growing up, his Dad was a collector, so thats how he starting getting into collecting maps, prints, etchings, and other artworks that he now sells in his tiny little underground shop. He sells original works and reproductions. The shop owner seemed to be very knowledgable about Dutch history–probably because he knows a lot about the background behind the images he sells. These three things from our conversation stuck out–

1. Because of the North Sea fishery there was always a great abundance of fatty, fresh herring. The Dutch never had to worry about feeding themselves and could focus on other issues, like patching up and draining their deltaic landscape, building ships, making trading routes, and inventing technology. The fish set Dutch up on a platform for success.

2. Because of the nature of the delta landscape, survival required co-operation. The Dutch needed to work together, look each other in the eye, make compromises, quell their individual egos and work together to create a landscape that was habitable. They needed to use their collective talents. This essentially explains how the water boards began. Dikes were built by the farmers who would directly benefit from them. But as the systems for water management became more complex, they needed an overseeing body to govern. Nothing could be accomplished alone.

3. Because of the work required on the land, the Dutch were naturally tall and built…during the Roman ages, Cesar’s royal guards were often from the Netherlands because of their beastly stature.

It was a fun experience, getting some Dutch cultural history from a guy in a printshop.

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Today I traveled to a suburb in between the Hague and Delft to meet an architect, Koen Olthius who exclusively builds on water. In 2007 he was #121 on Time’s list of the world’s most influential people. He was such a friendly, outgoing guy and instantly made me feel as though he was as interested to talk to me as I was to talk to him. Besides all the fascinating things he taught me about his work and how it has developed over time, I saw first hand how important it is to treat people you’re with with interest and kindness. My hour with Koen Olthius reminded me of this article here, where the author talks about his encounter with Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). In short, the author meets Hugh Jackman on the street and has a great first impression. Here’s the short of it:

In three minutes, Hugh Jackman turned me into a fan for life–but he didn’t sell me. He didn’t glad-hand me. He just gave me his full attention. He just acted as if, for those three minutes, I was the most important person in the world–even though he didn’t know me and has certainly forgotten me.

Just like a CEO, as an entertainer he is his “company,” and even though I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, I now see his “products” in a different, more positive light. 

That feeling totally occurred after my meeting with Mr. Olthius. When I got there, one of his colleagues gave me a free copy of his book, ‘Float!’ We sat down and talked, the whole time he explained things, he’d diagram what he was saying on architecture tracing paper so I have this long 8 foot string of tracing paper with a visual transcription of our conversation. It’s very cool.

I’ll say more about our conversation in the next post. But this is a fantastic overview of his vision. Great for anybody interested in urban issues and/or architecture!

His main point is to make cities more dynamic by opening up space up inside the city by building on a floating foundation. In doing so, he can combat a number of problems that arise from urban growth and climate change.

It was an absolute treat to talk to him!

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Tomorrow, I’m back up to Amsterdam to meet a professor at the University of Amsterdam. Prof. Dr. Jeroen Aerts works at the Institute for Environmental Studies. He is a professor in the area of risk management, climate change, and water resources management.

I have a painting in the works of Tracy Metz, but I unfortunately ran out of paint and don’t think it’s worth it to spend money on more because I don’t to lug it around as I travel around Europe in October.

Amsterdam Centraal:

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Benthemplein

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.

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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.

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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:

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

Also had a nice chat with this cabby:

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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.

Pier Vellinga

Sunday RSRC won the Rotterdam cup, proving that we’re the best team in town. Competition in the regular season begins this Sunday, but USA Rugby hasn’t cleared me to transfer my eligibility over here yet…I could play in the pre-season matches but I don’t want to get the team in trouble for playing without being registered. Huge bummer.

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Some of the guys on the team started calling me ‘American.’ It reminds me of the way they call Gladiator ‘Spaniard.’

In many ways, I feel like I’m representing the entire USA rugby community in front of these guys. I’m probably the one and only American rugby player this lot will ever meet so I gotta represent. #murica

On Monday, I spent the day in the Hague and the neighboring beach community, Scheveningen. Scheveningen has been torturing me since I got here. It is impossible to say unless you are Dutch and it’s been to the absolute delight of many many Dutch students hearing me butcher the pronunciation time after time after time…after time. Many conversations after meeting people will go, “Ohhh you’re American, where are you from?” “A small town north of Boston” “You don’t have a Boston accent but you definitely sound American” “Try saying this Dutch word, Schhkkkkleavlingah” “Shavelinger” “No. Schckkkeaveleveingah, with a ckkkk” “Okay Shavelinger” “Not quite good effort, though” (as they snicker and walk away).

I’ve gotten myself into that scenario about 15 times in the past two days. The hardest part was asking for directions to Scheveningen. I ended up just lowering my head and pointing on a map, acknowledging that I was a defeated doofus.

My hopes for a thriving career in espionage came to a startling halt when I heard that Scheveningen was used as a password in WW2 to identify German spies. The ‘chkkk’ sound is a real head-scratcher.

I met a man named Pier Vellinga for lunch in the Hague. He treated me to a delicious club sandwich and a coffee. Professor Vellinga is an expert on the impacts of Climate Change and invests in research that aims to climate proof cities. He advises Venice on flood prevention and water management and works with Ho Chi Minh City’s community based adaptation strategies. Pier was trained as an engineer at Delft University and now is deeply involved in the Knowledge for Climate program. See here. It was very nice of him to meet me–every day he travels around to at least two major Dutch cities for meetings. A very busy guy, but he was a delight to talk to. He speaks in a very calm, meditative tone and has a lot to say.

Professor Vellinga advised me to keep a look out for certain characteristics of the cities that I travel to. For example, are the cities using large scale adaptation strategies or small scale projects at community and household scales? What kind governance exists in each country? Is water management and flood control public or private? He hammered down the point that there is a huge return on investments in flood defense infrastructure. The cost of protection is usually far lower than the benefits of sustaining the economy, ecology, and populations of a region. But of course this is more-so true for large cities with proper economic activity than small rural towns.

I was also advised on some ways to collect and organize all the information I encounter over the year. Professor Vellinga also had some useful career advice and suggestions for graduate school.

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This was sort of a break through painting for me. I’m using acrylic paint so I’d load up the pigment with a lot of water and let the colors blend, drip, and flow letting the water take its own course. It was then a wrestling match of trying to control where the water went and shape the painting into the form I wanted. It’s kind of a cheesy concept, but to me it seems logical. And hey, I like cheese. If you look closely you can see areas where the paint makes shapes that look like rivers and deltas from a satellite view.

Here are some pictures from the Hague. The Hague is where the seat of government is. There are royal palaces, houses of parliament, national defense offices and so on. While Rotterdam was bombed really badly in WW2, the Hague retains its historic character and you see nice gothic buildings built into the urban fabric.

Scheveningen is a suburb of the Hague and a beach town. It was built on top of sand dunes, natural storm surge defenses. The town has built a multi-functional sea wall defense. The sea wall is raised about two stories at the end of about 100 meters of sand and the wall is programmed with a beach boulevard, shops, and store-fronts that unfortunately make Scheveningen look more like Mytle Beach or the Jersey Shore than a picturesque beach town.

The beach, even on a grey windy day was filled with recreation. There were kite-surfers, surfers, kite-flyers, and families strolling the boulevard. A lot of the restaurants and beach clubs were closed down for the season, but it was cool to see. I will likely head back out there sometime this month with a surfboard, just to say I surfed–well, tried to surf–in the North Sea.

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The past three nights I’ve been staying with some of the Rugby guys: Mikey, the captain of the team, a resident of Sheffield, England, and a chemical engineer for body wash products; Archie, a fellow Scotsman from Glasgow and Jappie, a native Nedelander. I’m crashing in their so called closet room. It’s a mattress on the floor, a pillow, and a rugby ball. #feelslikehome.

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Today I’m heading up to Amsterdam. I’m going to crash on the couch of Sierra Frisbee’s place. Sierra is a Bowdoin junior studying abroad in A’dam.

Tomorrow I’m meeting people who work for the Delta Alliance, an organization with the mission of improving the resilience of the World’s delta cities. I move into the yoga studio on Sunday.

Last night at 78 Maaskade

The first month is up.

I took a huge risk in July when I paid forward one month’s rent in an unknown city for an unknown apartment with unknown roommates. I got as lucky as lucky ducks get.

It’s been a wonderful stay in a beautiful apartment overlooking the Maas River. 78 Maaskade quickly became home and I made a few Dutch friends for life.

Berend took off today to live in Madrid for 6 months. He left me with an early birthday present, which I model here: click. Roffa is, in Berend’s own words, “the gangster name for Rotterdam that only gangsters use.” I’m glad to be awarded this token of appreciation and be deemed cool enough to represent Rotterdam as the city’s only American OG. I promised to wear it all over the streets of Amsterdam and do the ‘Ben Bruce’ dance whenever someone indicates their disgust and outrage at my sweatshirt choice. (For the #newbs: the legendary Ben Bruce move is when you put both hands on your head, bite your tongue, and move your hips around with feet still, obviously). The dance move is proven to turn water into wine.

All in all, it has been a brilliant stay and it’s sad to leave my Rotterdam home. But, nothing lasts forever and I’m glad to have great memories to look back on.

I couldn’t have written a better day today. I painted, hit the market (20 kiwis for 4 euros–yes!), skateboarded to get some coffee, and joined Marco with some other Erasmus students for a delicious home cooked meal of Nasi, a peanut-buttery Indonesian rice dish.

Playing in a rugby tournament tomorrow, then I’m crashing for the night at a teammates place. On to the Hague, Amsterdam, and adventures beyond. It’s been a while since I’ve put on my backpack.

Last night, I went out with a whole bunch of students who are doing an International Business Management masters program at Erasmus. We all got together at a house nearby for drinks before going to a club. It was pretty amazing to be in a room with students from Italy, Hungary, Greece, Poland, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Czech Republic, and so on. If you think about it, it’s geographically no different from sitting in a class at Bowdoin with kids from California, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, and so on. But the cultural differences within the small geographic area of Europe are so much more apparent than in the U.S. Very cool to witness.

As for now, going to watch a movie called ‘Mud’ with Marco, pack, then get some sleep before rugby time.

Damn it feels good to be a gansta.
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It’s a bummer sharing the only the photos of the paintings rather than the actual artifacts with you. I always get disappointed about how they look as photographs, but hey I’ll mail them to Hanover at some point so if you’re super eager you can drive on up and stay with my parents for a night!