tomorrow’s water city in Rotterdam | Successful connection

How do risk management and urbanization opportunities go hand in hand? In the Rhinestuary-Drechtsteden region, the municipality of Rotterdam and the MUST agency ‘urban design’ investigated how these themes converge on a potential site development location in the De Esch area outside the dikes. The eastern flank of the city is one of the major residential locations that will contribute to the major construction project in the Netherlands. If you look at the participation commissioner’s housing council, the plans are also in line with that.

What is design research?

You can use design research as a method to get answers to complex spatial issues. You look at tasks with a (design) perspective together with partners. The research does not aim to make a final design, but to establish new connections between different (thematic) tasks and possible solutions, and it sharpens goals. As a side result, it usually strengthens the collaboration and support between partners participating in this.

What can happen if the water gets a clearer voice? Rotterdam and MUST mapped the transformation possibilities for the De Esch area outside the dikes with a view to increasingly frequent high water levels. At the start of the plan development, flood risk management, climate and urbanization tasks were examined in the context of the extent of the area and region of the Rhinestuary-Drechtsteden Delta program. This resulted in the project Esch Water Speaks!

Senior urban planner and landscape designer by agency MUST Freek van Riet: ‘Esch Water Speaks has created three attractive future prospects for this area outside the dikes, all aimed at the year 2200. We took into account a complex stack of tasks. The prospects allow Rotterdam to remain a guide city for other worldwide cities. We are once again making water a guiding principle for urban development. ‘

Future images provide food for thought

In the design research, interdisciplinary workflows were organized with professional eyes at the municipality, the water council and area parties. This in combination with sociologists, organic designers and of course inspiring introductions of ‘free thinkers’ Darko Lagunas (sociologist & environmental researcher), Theun Karelse (artist / ecological designer) and Han Meijer (TU Delft). This resulted in the three perspectives for De Esch. These photos show what kind of city Rotterdam could be: ‘City on Two Oevers’, ‘Neighborhoods and Islands’ and ‘Liquid City’.

These different future perspectives are based on whether the Meuse is closed by the North Sea or not, and the subsequent implicit choice for the type of water system. It matters, for example, whether the city retains tidal and salt influence, or whether the water system does not allow this. The possibilities for landscape, nature and ecology as well as possibilities for urbanization concepts in De Esch are closely linked to that choice.

Per scenario, you can see where the biggest investments – over time – are needed and what threats play a role. In addition, it is mapped out what the reasonable ‘moments’ are to switch to another strategy if necessary.

Visual representation of the Esch Water Speaks timeline
Visual representation of the Esch Water Speaks timeline. Source: Rotterdam Municipality

Senior strategic urban planner and planner in Rotterdam municipality Marlies van der Maarel: ‘Esch Water Speaks is helping to expand the debate about the city of the future. The aim of the research was not to make a choice for a single vision of the future, but to visually list the consequences of choices (or could be) and where there are connections. It helps to make good decisions. ‘

Clear ‘visual narrative’ helps complex choices

This study demonstrates the importance of design research on complex issues. The interdependent scale levels, timelines – now and later – and accumulation of interests are integrated into a clear ‘narrative’. In this way, choices and follow-up questions from the stakeholders are seen in relation to each other and with an eye. to a distant future. This contributes to conscious choices for society as a whole.

Esch Water Speaks contributes in various ways to the complex issue. Among other things by:

  • To (continue to) look at sustainability from a broad perspective, including the non-human perspective, heritage values ​​and long-term effects;
  • As a government make a crucial contribution to participation and awareness of opportunities and dependencies;
  • To bring the issue of distribution – especially safe living – to a good result for all.

The municipality of Rotterdam sees opportunities to also use this type of research for other area development tasks in the city. Vera Konings, water safety adviser for the municipality of Rotterdam: ‘Investigative design is highly recommended for all regions where different tasks and issues, such as in De Esch, meet.’

And now…

Rotterdam Municipality continues in collaboration with the Delta program Rhine-mundingen-Drechtsteden to obtain practical answers to questions such as: Is continuing to build solidly outside the dikes the answer here? What investments, choices and initiatives can be justified? And also for example: How can we make the unique qualities of the river more accessible and inclusive for people and flora & fauna?

These issues need to be addressed in further knowledge exchange and decisions. The municipality of Rotterdam is already following up the research by collaborating with other authorities, residents, stakeholders and other partners.

Watch the Esch Water Speaks study from Bureau Must here.

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