Exploring Rotterdam: Boats, Bikes, and Basins: Wet Infrastructure Studio Planning Course, Day 2

By: Cate Flanagan and Keira Webster

Cate Flanagan and Keira Webster are in their final year of their Master’s of Planning at the Ryerson University School of Urban and Regional Planning. They are passionate about active and sustainable transportation, building urban resilience, and all things environment-related.

The Netherland’s second largest city, Rotterdam, is home to 584,000 inhabitants and the biggest and busiest port in Europe. Rotterdam, meaning “dam on the Rotte” is situated along the New Meuse river, the primary channel in the delta created by the rivers, Rhine and Meuse. On the morning of Tuesday October 4th, we enjoyed a breezy boat tour exploring the old port of the city experiencing part of what makes Rotterdam a cosmopolitan urban centre.

Not only did we have a great view of Rotterdam’s modern architecture from the boat – including de rotterdam (the tallest building in The Netherlands) designed by Rem Koolhaas and the erasmus bridge designed by Ben van Berkel – but also were able to experience some of the inner workings of the old port from the moving of shipping containers to the dredging of the channel floor (pictured below).

Dredging of the channel floor in Rotterdam (Grant Mason/2016)

Dredging of the channel floor in Rotterdam (Grant Mason/2016)

Our team was fortunate enough to meet Anna Loes Niellsen, the director of DeFacto Architecture + Urbanism and key player in the world water industry. Her firm has worked on extensive flood risk and delta plans for countries ranging from the United States of America to Bangladesh, in addition to multiple projects in climate adaptation, waterfront planning, and parks. Her informative presentation emphasized one main point: “to design, you must understand how the natural systems fundamentally work”, a key lesson for Toronto and our compromised hydrological systems.

The afternoon brought a myriad of educational moments in both green infrastructure and cycling etiquette as we explored Rotterdam’s Merwevierhavens (M4H) neighbourhood. M4H was created as a district for the fruit import industry in the early years of the 20th century. Since then, the technology and energy sectors have occupied the site followed by the recent influx of artists and designers to the area.

The bike tour focused on smaller scale urban blue and green infrastructure. Notable stops along the tour included lunch at the urban farm Uit Je Eigen Stad, the adaptive reuse of a stormwater tank for the ballet, and a rooftop park above a “big box” retail boulevard.

Multi-purpose rooftop park situated above retail street (Cate Flanagan/2016)

Multi-purpose rooftop park situated above retail street (Cate Flanagan/2016)

The bike tour concluded outside M4H at the Rotterdam water square, Benthemsquare (Benthemplein). Pictured below, the water square – designed by Dutch landscape architecture firm, De Urbanisten – makes water the primary feature of the space. The multipurpose public space serves as a school-yard and recreational space during sunny days, and an urban reservoir during storms. Runoff from the city streets are channeled into the square’s basins and is held there until it can be gradually drained into Rotterdam’s larger water management systems.

Benthemplein water square acts as a multi-functional place for stormwater management and public activity (Grant Mason/2016)

Benthemplein water square acts as a multi-functional place for stormwater management and public activity (Grant Mason/2016)

Sources:

Eupedia. (n.d.). Rotterdam Travel Guide. Retrieved from Eupedia: http://www.eupedia.com/netherlands/rotterdam.shtml

Green, J. (2014). Detours Obligatory: Rotterdam’s Water Square. Retrieved from The Dirt ASLA website: https://dirt.asla.org/2014/03/13/detours-obligatory-rotterdams-water-square/

Rotterdams Collectief & Tapan Communicatie. (2014-2015). M4H – Development Strategy. Retrieved from Dutch Urban Solutions website: http://www.dutchurbansolutions.com/xxl—m4h-development-strategy