Water resilience in the city

North Carolina has many water-related problems. To mention some: Droughts, pollution of streams and lakes, quantity and quality of drinking water. Additionally, the cities and communities in the state are particularly vulnerable to severe flooding, an increasing problem due to climate change effects. Severe rainstorms, limited run off capacity by streams and rivers, rising ocean levels, but also here and there missing links in urban planning will cause damage to property, people and economy as well as environmental issues.

Could we learn from similar situations elsewhere? Let’s turn our attention to the Netherlands, mostly beneath sea level and with many rivers running through the cities and communities. Just a week ago, water levels in the Rhine rose to appr. 50 feet above its normal level. However, no uncontrolled flooding or damage has happened.

A couple of decades ago, the Netherlands stopped building ever higher dykes channeling the water rapidly downstream. As a response, the country created designated flood areas storing the overflow of water temporarily.

Similar is the approach towards heavy rain fall, where decennia old sewage systems could not take care of the extreme amounts of water. The Dutch city of Rotterdam, partner in the resilience program by the Rockefeller Foundation, has an innovative approach to water resilience. Rotterdam is located close to the coastline, is harboring one of the largest ports in the world, and has one of the main river systems running through the heart of the city.

Let’s focus here on one particular and successful approach that would work well in flood areas in North Carolina cities and communities: the so-called “water squares.”

Benthemplein water square. Photo source: De Urbansiten-Rotterdam

Using natural and roadside slopes and rooftop drain pipes, rainwater is collected in minor canals and directed towards squares in the city. The square is deepened into different levels, allowing it to store water. Nice architectural elements, design of streams and ponds, and several art and recreational elements make the place a fun place to be for citizen, young and old. This is an affordable approach to temporarily store overflowing streams from heavy rain fall in a controlled way.


Featured Image: Rotterdam. Photo Credit: Cor Rademaker.


About the Author: Cor Rademaker has worked in urban planning and design with regards to sustainable and social development  since the end of the eighties with his company, Strateq. Throughout the years, Strateq has been involved in more than 70% of urban development in The Netherlands. Strateq is involved in diverse Smart City Projects, both within the USA, The Netherlands and other countries such as Brazil and Indonesia.

I have worked with several universities on various projects, including The Hague University’s Innovative Entrepreneurship program, the Technical University Delft’s Green Campus project, and the Green Village – a test facility to make areas and buildings autarkic on energy, water and waste. In North Carolina, at the School of Information and Library Sciences at the University of North Carolina, he works on Smart City programs for students and professionals. I have realized the Smart City Event at the UNC CleanTech Summit and worked on a Smart and Connected Community Center NC. I am the chairman of the National Advisory Board for Strategies for Smart Cities in the Netherlands, and is involved in the EU SSCC Smart City Coordination Group. This includes new and innovative strategies, processes and technologies involved in Smart Cities, such as platforms, sensors and big data applications.

Previously, I have been VP at one of the larger public transit authorities in the Netherlands, the HTM in The Hague. I studied urban planning and urban design, mobility management, and human geography. I hold a masters of engineering on urban planning and design from NHTV Breda/Tilburg, a Msc in Human Geography from Rijksuniversiteit Utrecht and an MBA from Erasmus Rotterdam.