By: Greggory Hanson & Trevor Empey
Greggory Hanson: An Urban Planning Masters student with keen interests in urban systems and transportation. Research focus is predominantly in active transportation and stormwater management.
Trevor Empey: Trevor is a highly engaged, Urban Planning Graduate Student who has a strong interest in environmental planning initiatives and for the development of healthy cities as urbanization continues to explode.
It isn’t all about big impressive concrete infrastructure in the Netherlands! Sometimes, a perspective and appreciation for the way nature manages water can yield just as impressive results without all the fanfare. Our studio appropriately visited De Biesbosch National Park right after visiting one of the Netherlands largest scale hard infrastructure investments, the Oosterscheldekering, or the Easter Scheldt Storm Surge Barrier. The national park, just on the outskirts of Dordrecht, is one of many ‘Room for the River’ sites aimed at managing river based flooding. We were immersed in the history of the site through a presentation in the museum on site, and a tour of the artificially natural floodplain that spans the majority of De Biesbosch. The site itself is located at the outflow of the Wall River which flows into the Rhine/ Meuse Delta. De Biesbosch National Park is a perfect example of the triple threat that the Dutch face (subsidence, increased outflow, and sea level rise) and what a fitting way to approach this triple threat than to return to natural solutions!
Originally marshlands, De Biesbosch, or a forest of rushwoods in English, was created after a large flooding event which occurred during the early 15th century. This flooding event caused the breach of several dikes which were poorly built and maintained and after an extended period of time, an estuary system became to be known as De Biesbosch. Overtime, land reclamation occurred through the use of polders, a traditional Dutch water management technique, where a predominant agricultural land use dominated the landscape.
After a few recent scares resulting in the National ‘Room for the River’ project, the Dutch decided to approach De Biesbosch with a different mindset, one where natural interventions and solutions to flood mitigation and water management would be incorporated. The reclaimed land was returned to an artificial natural state that would flood in situations where the rivers swelled. This represented a paradigm shift that was replicating itself all across the Netherlands. The Dutch realized that allowing the natural systems to operate the way they historically have been meant that they could guide and anticipate flooding situations as opposed to the traditional approaches of raising dikes and building large infrastructure. Because of this change in thinking, The De Biesbosch National Park is a flagship example of the Dutch new wave of water management!