Taken by Supriya Pava

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Life of New Yorker Goes to Holland Finale

The 6th and final day of our Rotterdam tour was an emotional one. We came together as community leaders, staff, and students to recap, discuss, and engage one last time on the RDM Campus. Even though we were heading to Amsterdam the following morning it felt as if an important part of our journey was coming to an end. We learned so much and built some solid relationships with the professors, students, and guides in Rotterdam through international exchange.

Closing Session on RDM Campus
Connecting Delta Cities Chart during final presentation
Our final presentation took place in the auditorium of RDM Campus where our large group combined with various professionals and students of Rotterdam. It was a perfect summary of everything we had learned and even expanded further on that knowledge by explaining the existing connection between the Delta Cities, which included Rotterdam, Hong Kong, and New York.

The Panel
Community Leaders participating in panel discussion at closing ceremony

During the discussion panel the leaders were able to express their gratitude, speak about what happened during Hurricane Sandy, the roles their organizations play in the community on a daily basis, and recap what they learned on the tours.I think this was an integral part of the program which at times was very technical and lacked the community aspect of it all. Having ground knowledge was crucial in providing necessities and keeping communication with the residents in the community during a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy. This panel I felt opened up a different perspective coming from the voice of the people in each represented community organization in NYC.

Red Hook Initiative (RHI) was represented by Alisa P. and Toni S. on the panel. They introduced themselves and spoke about youth programs such as the Digital Stewards and the Social Justice Fellows which are granting more opportunities and empowering the young people in the Red Hook community every day. The representatives from Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) and Rockaway Water Front Alliance, who were also gravely affected by Sandy, sat alongside Toni and Alisa representing their own communities and speaking of their individual daily challenges. It felt like there was a bond or sort of kinship that developed from this willingness to come together for a common goal and share stories and pertinent knowledge with each other.

My personal favorite part of the closing ceremony was the comparison segment between the two cities. Apparently, while Rotterdam has been on top of Urban Re-development and major projects to improve climate resilient infrastructure in their city, NY has been improving upon community affairs and crisis management which is something even the people of Rotterdam agree they could improve upon. To further drive this point we all participated in an exercise where all the community representatives from NY raised their hands to show the drive and dedication as well as community presence. On the other hand when it was time for the community leaders and representatives from Rotterdam to raise their hands an uncomfortable silence spread across the room as no one raised their hands. This was an excellent point made to show that both Rotterdam and NY were making moves to make more resilient communities and adapt to climate change. Connecting the Delta cities and exchanging information was a major step in the mission and I was very proud to be part of it. 
Check out the Students of Pratt Institutes's blog to relive the adventure from the prospective of urban planning students: http://ramprotterdamx.tumblr.com/ 

I am honored to have been the chosen young adult representing Red Hook Initiative in The Netherlands. Information was exchanged, relationships were built, and I grew as a person as well as a community organizer after this experience. It was my first time ever in Europe and I never imagined I would be there to make a difference in this world by giving back to my community. It was all thanks to a place I consider to be a safe haven, a support system,  and the beacon of hope in my neighborhood.
Thank you, Red Hook Initiative!!! 


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Life of a New Yorker Goes to Holland: Day 5

 Wednesday, March 19th signaled the 5th day of our tour and was a more laid back agenda. The students and staff of Pratt Institute, other community leaders, and I met up to take a walk around a museum and view more integrated flood protective infrastructure in Rotterdam.
The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 
Corner view of the museum entrance
Greek Inspired artwork featured in front museum

On Wednesday morning we met in front of The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen where we would start our day. There was a little confusion on my end where I thought we were going to tour inside the museum when in actuality the students met in front the museum and began their walking tour without ever having gone inside.

So I had a special solo tour of the beautiful arts museum and was quite pleased with the collection of historical European art. The museum survived the bombing of 1940 and was still full of rich historical context, art, paintings, and sculptures.

The Water Plaza

I am thoroughly convinced that the Netherlands natives are religiously dedicated to protecting their home. The water plaza is another cleverly integrated flood protection method that we were introduced to.The plaza is a full water management system that also can be used as a daily skate park, basketball court, and general recreational area right in the heart of Rotterdam near Central Station. It is a complex and innovative system that utilizes water absorbent agriculture, fountains, and en extensive drainage system connected to the sewer lines so that when it rains the water is easily absorbed, stored, and managed.

Various parts of the Water Plaza System
I was yet again impressed at the many ways flood protective infrastructure can be integrated into everyday live. These were all the ways the Netherlands were making their city sustainable and protected against flood, climate change, and natural disasters. Our evening ended in great conversation in the lounge of our hostel and a bittersweet acknowledgement that our last days in Holland were approaching swept over us all. With everything we had already learned and experienced I felt satisfied knowing I could return to Red Hook with all this information but I also felt pretty sad knowing my adventure was coming to an end.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Life of a New Yorker Goes to Holland: Day 4

Tuesday, March 18th brought the 4th day of our exciting adventure in Rotterdam where we enjoyed a brief tour of South Rotterdam, visited the Creative Factory and returned to RDM Campus for some one on one interaction between the students. On our walking tour we immediately noticed the drastic contrast between the old and new architecture in the South side of the city. Despite the overwhelming development displayed in the new construction our tour guide informed us that the city did in fact want to retain the older construction.
Old vs New architecture in South Rotterdam

Upon completion of our walking tour we arrived at the Creative Factory, a large and impressive work space that is known for nurturing the creative industry in Rotterdam. The factory is open to companies, partners, and students who benefit from the extensive and largely collaborative environment.

Once an old silo (large storage container for inventory), the almost 100 year old building is another prime example of urban redevelopment. Our first speaker for the evening let us know that the area was once considered dangerous and undesirable but with the Creative Industry being very famous in the industrial environment and bringing notoriety, the area is now known for it's positive contributions to the community. Having the Creative Factory in such an area promotes inspiration to the young creative professionals in Rotterdam who can network and build relationships all while completing new and innovative projects.

The extensive factory sports various size office spaces and conference rooms for rent to qualifying creative minds. Only after an interview and viewing of the space can someone get a spot in the building to design as they please. The Creative Factory also caters to the youth in the community by reserving special units for Rotterdam University students to work on innovative projects.

Unique top floor office space in the Creative Factory 
During the weekends the Creative Factory hosts one of Rotterdam's more popular night clubs. I was in awe at the many different ways that unused spaces can be redesigned to be effective and productive both culturally and economically.


After lunch our group once again boarded the convenient Aqua Liner ferry that took us to RDM Campus where we would engage in a one on one group discussion with the students of Rotterdam University.

The students of Pratt Institute represented NYC excellently and were professional and informative with their impressive presentations! Then everyone (including the Rotterdam students) split into groups to discuss individually and construct their own sustainability flow charts. After brainstorming how the challenges and potential ways sustainability could be achieved in each respective communities the groups came together and presented what they had come up with.

Watching the large group of young people engaged and hearing everyone's collective input just showed the success of such a program. We were the future community leaders, architects, urban planners, and engineers. This experience prepared us for the real work of making a positive impact and contributing to our communities. We ended our night with a full meal and conversation in the RDM dining hall. The international exchange taking place that evening was a unique kind of kinship and what connected us all was the pride and determination to protect and support our homes.
Our Rotterdam Adventure Group Picture

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Life of a New Yorker Goes to Holland: Day 3

On the 3rd day of our exciting Rotterdam adventure we met up to purchase our tickets and board the Aqua liner heading to RDM Campus. The ferry ride was brief and we arrived shortly at the large and impressive school located right in the port area of Rotterdam.
RDM Campus Entrance
RDM stands for Research, Design, and Manufacture. The purpose of the campus is to promote education, innovation, and climate resilient communities in Rotterdam. The campus was once a shipyard and is now an education and training center contributing to the city's economy and empowering the youth. While RDM campus is a prime example of waterfront redevelopment by making such productive use of the space and their Innovation Dock, there was no community voice or representation in Rotterdam to support it in the beginning. Initially there was not enough time or people to invest in building the campus. One of our tour guides even admitted that there were not many people from his own nearby village enrolled and benefiting from these new innovations.  It was a process and eventually several different stakeholders came together and the RDM campus was the result of their collaboration. Those stakeholders include but are not limited to Albeda College, Port of Rotterdam Authority, Rotterdam University, and Municipality of Rotterdam.
Climate resilient Concept House designed by RDM students
Our tour began in the auditorium where we experienced a brief presentation that explained the history and significance of having such an innovative institution like RDM in Rotterdam. From the presentation we learned that the campus is a "breeding place" for students and companies to come together and focus on new economic developments in a supportive and nurturing space.
Our current tour guide:
RDM graduate turned employee

The students enrolled at RDM receive their education, professional training, opportunities to contribute to their community's development, and build relationships with established companies. As we walked around the main campus with our tour guide he explained to us that the students enrolled at RDM come from diverse backgrounds and not only receive education but also undergo extensive training programs and the opportunity to work on projects like concept houses, which are sustainable and climate resistant homes. They also take part in the redevelopment of existing homes to make them more sustainable and affordable for residents of Heijplaat, the nearby village. To the right is a photo of an RDM alumni who was taken on as an employee right after graduating. He is explaining the dynamics behind some student designs for affordable and climate resilient housing complexes.

What I got the most from visiting the RDM Campus was that coalitions are extremely important and so is community representation. Briefly after the storm Red Hook Initiative (RHI) opened it's doors, organized volunteers, and provided basic necessities like light, heat, and power to the residents of Red Hook who essentially had no communication or government response team. Because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy and the extent of how unprepared the community of Red Hook was to withstand the storm, the Red Hook Coalition was formed. As a youth involved in a Social Justice Fellowship with RHI who was personally affected by Hurricane Sandy I appreciate the support that was provided to us by an organization whose main function is to represent, empower, and improve the quality of life for the people in my community. Red Hook Initiative along with the other organizations involved in the coalition came together much like the companies that formed RDM campus. The common goal is to not only be more prepared for the next storm or flood but also create a more sustainable community overall and improve the quality of life for residents EVERY SINGLE DAY, not just when it storms.

Exploring a Concept house still being built
Red Hook Initiative takes a stand to empower the youth in our community of Red Hook. Seeing the correlation and effect of the same work taking place all the way in Rotterdam was truly inspiring. I wondered how effective the impact of such an education center would be in Red Hook and other areas of New York City. Both Rotterdam and Red Hook have high unemployment rates in their communities and with the RDM Campus and RHI providing training and opportunities to the youth they are both that much closer to making sustainable and climate resistant living conditions. There is so much we could accomplish by also  utilizing and redeveloping our unused spaces while empowering the youth in the community of Red Hook even more! 

I'm learning so much while here in Rotterdam and noticing the many differences as well as similarities that exist between the two communities. Tomorrow is a new day, a new tour and more things to learn and experience while living The Life of a New Yorker (.com).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Life of a New Yorker goes to Holland Day 2:

Sunday, March 16th marked the 2nd day of our informational tour of Rotterdam. The representatives of Red Hook Initiative (including myself) along with Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, and the students from Pratt Institute studying urban planning, met the bus promptly at 8:00am that would take us to our first stop on the tour.

Harbor in Rotterdam, Netherlands 2014
After introductions took place on the bus we all settled into our seats and enjoyed the facts occasionally given to us by our tour guide, a Dutch native. We learned that the purpose of the many hills and inclines that we drove past were to serve as a traditional means of flood protection. The people of Rotterdam built many flood barriers, levees, and Katrina like structures to protect themselves from the overwhelming threat of death by water. In the devastating flood that hit The Netherlands in 1953 every last protection measure previously taken proved fatally ineffective and more than 1,800 people lost their lives. Man made dikes (hills) have never been enough. With the economical and cultural shift now happening in Rotterdam and more and more people choosing to live on the waterfront, now is the time to embrace innovative and new ways to protect the city from this constant threat.

I believe the community of Red Hook is experiencing a similar shift in culture and economy with gentrification and all the new businesses being developed. I also strongly believe that achieving sustainability is integral to our survival if and when another natural disaster occurs.

Photograph of house consumed by water during flood of 1953

Volunteer board featuring volunteers from
flood of 1953 - 2013
Much like Red Hook (and essentially any other community in New York City) The Netherlands needed a lot of organizing, fundraising for relief efforts, and volunteers to all come together and get their city back up and running normally. I cannot stress enough the importance of community work. It is essential to improving and maintaining the quality of life for all residents living in that area. Hurricane sandy did not have anywhere near the same capacity of death or damage as the flood of 53 however, it was similar in that it was quite devastating, unexpected, and the people were hopelessly ill prepared.

Watersnood Museum

We arrived at the famed Watersnood Museum where we learned even more interesting things about Rotterdam. For instance, after the flood of 1953 they placed 4 large caissons (structures used in underwater work) in the breach where the barriers broke and began recovering and rebuilding the city. The museum was created in 2001 and originally only occupied one of the caissons. It was very important that people pay homage to all those who died in the flood. The museum was very successful and eventually expanded to all four caissons. Equipped with pictures, names, and tons of information about all the villages in The Netherlands that were affected by the storm, their mission is to remember, to learn, and to look ahead.

Artwork Inspired by the flood

What stood out the most when it came to the museum was that it was not only this impressive display of historical items but also a very personal memorial that was extensive and must mean a great deal to the people of Rotterdam. The first Caisson contained all the factual information about the flood while the second Caisson was all about the emotions of the people. There were stories of  families with new born babies fighting to escape their homes in time and noble soldiers risking their lives to save a single horse. There was a very interesting installation in Caisson Two where the names of over 100 people who were either survivors or somehow connected with the flood scrolled across a touch screen and when touched an audio voice tells their story. While the artwork, words, and pictures inspired by the tragic event were mostly in Dutch, it was all very touching and just reiterates the notion that our lives and our homes are precious and need to be protected.

We continued touring the museum passing through each caisson which were all connected. Caisson 3 is dedicated to reconstruction and features the machinery, houses, agriculture and infrastructure that were used during the rebuilding process directly after the flood. The fourth and final Caisson is dedicated to the future and all the new innovative projects that Rotterdam has been undertaking in order to protect the land while managing to capture and store the water efficiently.

Oosterschelde Barrier in The Netherlands
After walking through the entire museum, the group and I returned to the bus and headed to our next location. There were multiple discussions on the bus between the students, professors, teachers, organizers, and tour guides about the sustainability of waterfronts and the importance of working with the water because it is after all beneficial to the economy of waterfront communities just as it is dangerous. Our minds were bubbling with all this information and this was only the 2nd day! 

 The next stop on our tour was the Delta Project Storm Surge Barrier. The 'Oosterschelde' is apparently "without any doubt, the most impressive storm surging structure of the Netherlands" (according to their website). My group and I were able to actually go inside and learn all about how this barrier works and was constructed.

The barrier was constructed using strong and solid materials like steel and is made up of multiple layers. The bottom layer protects from erosion and supports the entire structure. Building it was a complex process that involved the strongest self designed floating crane positioning individual parts of the barrier. The gates of the barrier are left open so that the natural habitat behind it would not be affected. The gates are closed when severe storms combine with rising water levels and the risk of flood is increased. It took about 7 years to complete this massive structure but I think the people of The Netherlands would agree it was well worth it. So far the barrier has not been breached by the water and proves to be the most efficient flood protection measure taken thus far.

We also visited the 'Maeslant' barrier which we learned was economically and structurally different from the Oosterschelde. Firstly, it is more efficient for navigation and the economy because it does not stop the boats and ships from coming through and conducting their business. The design for this barrier was also chosen because it was cheaper and slightly easier to maintain. Something like this would work efficiently in areas like the Gowanus Canal where everyday functions could be carried out while the barrier is used only when needed. During Hurricane Sandy such a structure could have been highly effective in controlling the overwhelming amount of water that flooded Red Hook.

Currently there are around 100,000 people working in water management in the Netherlands. The people pay for these safety measures through taxes but also gain a more resilient, safe, and sustainable community while the work of water management creates more jobs and benefits the economy. I was just as impressed as I was on the first day of the tour with their innovations and technoligical advances. Having not only one but several innovative developments like these barriers while providing jobs is a great way to make a community more resilient. This would especially be effective in a community where unemployment is prevalent. By the end of the tour I was very eager to learn more of their society and how their community leaders played a role in the representation of the residents.

 Tomorrow brings another day of tours and a whole new set of useful information!
Stay Tuned!