The city of Rotterdam, Netherlands has solutions for urban planning that incorporates flooding and sea level rise into every new development in their sunken city. Ninety percent of Rotterdam lies below sea level and has since its inception as a major city for the Dutch country.

rotterdam skyline nighttime climate change Rotterdam’s Climate Change Adaptation

Lying in the mouth of the Rhine and Maas Rivers, it has always been vulnerable to water conditions. As we endure climate change with its increased severity and frequency of extreme weather events, Rotterdam is the place to turn for urban resiliency. (photo – Pixabay)


Climate Change Mitigation Development

With a culture of living with, not against, the water, the issue of climate change adaptation in Rotterdam is not hypothetical or divisive. On the contrary, it guides spatial planning, education, and innovation to prepare for the best projections of weather realities in 2100.

graph 1, rotterdam skyline barge climate change Rotterdam’s Climate Change AdaptationThe Climate Change Adaptation Strategy outlines the changing landscape of Rotterdam measured on reducing the effects of heat stress, drought, sea water rise, and increased flooding.


Green Buildings rotterdam green roof gardensNew and old construction is built with vegetation growth on roofs and building facades. Personal and community gardens are encouraged to absorb sunlight and atmospheric gases productively. The city encourages paving to be replaced with either vegetation, a water feature, or porous paving so that collected rainwater will trickle slowly back into the groundwater table and reduce negative run-off. (photo –


Rainwater Reservoirs

A majority of the projects for climate change adaptation are dedicated to spaces for holding excess water. Parking garages have reservoirs for collecting flood water underneath them.

Rotterdam graph 2, Rotterdam’s Climate Change AdaptationBioswales, features that collect and slowly release excess water, are incorporated in traditional vegetation design, as well as into the design of buildings.  Yes, buildings that collect, store, and slowly drain rainwater.

Public spaces meant to beautify and increase the satisfaction of residents in Rotterdam, like the Eendragtspolder (which houses a rowing facility) also serve as a space for collecting rain and sea water. There are many man-made lakes, canals, waterways and water squares that can uptake excess water.

Multi-Use Storm Barriers

The city has evaluated the strength of its existing dikes and identified where new ones should be built. Much of the design of every climate feature for Rotterdam is as centered around utility as it is around aesthetics.

The complex series of storm barriers are utilized as outdoor spaces for residents. Climate dikes offer commercial space. Recreational dikes are used as public gardens and bicycle pathways. Some, like the one below, utilize both aspects for resident satisfaction and rental fees that upkeep the construction.

rotterdam storm barrierAlso key to the holistic design of their city is a system of compartment dikes that act as a second barrier to prevent a breach of a major barrier from spreading.

“Within the densely built-up parts of Rotterdam the dikes are multi-functional, integrated, attractive structures. The recognisability of the dikes in the city plays a part in making the inhabitants more aware of the risks of flooding.”

The above quote from Rotterdam Climate Initiative brings home the human-centered part of this adaptive strategy. Frank discussion of risks and vulnerabilities as well as expected changes in the city are actively engaged. There are acknowledged safe points for gathering goods and elevated walkways for evacuation in case of emergency. The city is an innovator for architecture that floats on water–homes and commercial spaces like the one featured below. They are even set to pioneer a floating dairy farm to help with food supply. (photo – Rotterdam Climate Change Adaptation Strategy)


rotterdam skyline climate change Rotterdam’s Climate Change Adaptation pixabay

Redesigning the dense city center of Rotterdam is based as much on changing climate as community building and attraction of more residents.


A New Space for Opportunity

This shining example of a climate resilient city comes with one major caveat. As the home of petrochemical shipping in Europe, this port city relies on fossil fuels as its energy source. For those that incorporate resiliency into the design of coastal communities, there is much value in adapting these plans to include energy sources from wave and weather forces. (photo – Pixabay)

By Caitlin Flannery, Blue Ocean Network Contributor


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