Image from the Rotterdam Climate Initiative

Image from the Rotterdam Climate Initiative

On Dec. 4, Benthemplein, the world’s first full-scale water square, opened in Rotterdam (Netherlands). The square can retain nearly 2 million liters (528,344 gallons) of water. During dry weather, the square can host a number of sports, theater and relaxation activities.

The city and district water board included input from local residents, including students of the adjoining Zadkine school. The URBANISTEN architects facilitated this participation process, which served as a valuable form of local cooperation. As a result, the square now hosts more green infrastructure as well as facilities for skateboarding and basketball. The Zadkine school can program outdoor activities as well.

Rotterdam’s abundant impervious surfaces guide rainwater to surface waters and sewers. Increasingly intense rain events have overwhelmed the city’s stormwater infrastructure, resulting in flooded streets and basements. The Benthemplein area was in a high-flood risk zone.

However, the water square is helping to prevent floods. It is one among a host of smart solutions applied in Rotterdam, such as green rooftops, water storage facilities, and the Bellamyplein, a smaller version of the Benthemplein.

“Rotterdam provides challenges to water specialists. Located in the Dutch Delta and highly urbanized, the city has no ‘natural’ relief system for peaks in waterfall,” said Chris van der Velden, watercommissioner with Schieland and Krimpenerwaard District Water Board. “Keeping dry feet in this area requires appropriate measures, such as water squares, which we aptly provide with the City of Rotterdam.”

Many of these innovations have been initiated by the City of Rotterdam and the Schieland and Krimpenerwaard District Water Board. They provide examples of the Rotterdam approach to addressing water and climate issues. The Rotterdam approach started in 2008 as Rotterdam Climate Proof and is now part of the Rotterdam Climate Initiative (RCI). A major RCI goal is to sustain the city’s position as a climate proof delta city.

“The Rotterdam approach to climate change has grown into a movement of change over the last five years. It spans everything from city improvement in the social sense and in water safety, to economic growth,” said Vice-Mayor Alexandra van Huffelen. “Smart combinations and actual experimentation have rendered us successful, inside our city and all over the world.”

The Rockefeller Foundation also announced recently that Rotterdam and 33 other cities will be the first to join the ‘100 Resilient Cities’ network.

Through projects like Benthemplein, Rotterdam has become an international example. Dozens of international delegations visit the city each year. The approach has led to commercial projects for Dutch companies in cities such as Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) and New Orleans. Read more.