Taken by Supriya Pava

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!

No comments:

Post a Comment