Living with water 16-17

The future of cities is increasingly defined by climate change and socio-economic shifts in society. In the case of Rotterdam: the rising sea level and the increase of water flowing through the Maas on the one hand and the changing economy from fossil to postfossil, knowledge-driven, on the other hand. Both tendencies result in a need for domestic areas that are ‘climate proof ’, that enable residents to develop themselves and that provoke social interaction among the inhabitants of the area and surroundings.

Merwe haven is an ideal place to connect climate adaptation with social interaction. First of all it’s situated ‘buitendijks’, meaning that it’s in the harbor, outside of the dike ring that protects Rotterdam from flooding. As the sea level is rising and more water will flow through the Maas, new buildings should be prepared for flooding. How should a new neighborhood in Merwe haven relate to water? Should it flood every now and then, should homes be floating, should the whole area be lifted to provide the needed protection against water? And moreover, when will water become an asset instead of a threat?

Secondly, the area should attract the group of highly educated, creative people that currently leave Rotterdam. How will this area be interesting for them to stay? What amenities should be provided? What type of houses? How should the new neighborhood be connected to the surrounding areas?

Result of a workshop of TU Delft mastertrack ‘Architecture and dwelling’, studio ‘Living with water’, led by Olv Klijn and Pepijn Bakker.

Recently the Lonely Planet listed the city of Rotterdam as one of the most interesting cities to visit. Indeed, since the completion of the Markthal, De Rotterdam office building, the new station and the ongoing upgrade of the city’s public space, Rotterdam seems to flourish. But behind the façade of new architecture and great public space is a worrisome reality that urges the city to develop a new strategy to prepare Rotterdam for the future. The harbor, previously Rotterdam’s biggest asset and still the biggest of Europe, is highly disconnected from the city and part of the ‘old’ economy build around petrochemical, fossil industry, which is expected to decrease in size in the future.

Instead the ‘new’, knowledge driven, sustainable economy is relatively small. Startups in this sector rather settle in other cities in the Netherlands. They are followed by higher educated people, who move to other cities to find jobs that match their qualities and ambitions better. Meanwhile Rotterdam copes with high unemployment rates and low education levels among inhabitants. Neighborhoods like Spangen, Afrikaanderwijk and Tarwewijk are targeted as ‘krachtwijk’ (literally translated ‘strength neighborhood’),
which is an euphemism for the neighborhoods with socio-economic problems that need (and get) special attention by the national and local government.

To change Rotterdam’s position, the municipality invests its local knowledge driven and ‘green’ economy and it tries to attract more higher educated people to settle in the city. Recently it presented its ‘woonvisie’ (municipal housing strategy), containing a plan to decrease the city’s rent controlled housing stock, replacing it by housing for the mid and high segment of the market (read: for the people that currently move out), to create a better mix of education levels of citizens. Next to this, the city actively approaches and sponsors startup to settle in the city. And it tries to create new, distinctive and sustainable neighborhoods with excellent shared facilities.

One of the resulting projects is ‘Merwe haven’, a gigantic harbor restructuring project on the North bank of the Maas, involves both creation of new industry, commercial and domestic areas. Merwe Haven is located relatively far from the city center, behind the areas that have been transformed in the nineties and zeros, on the edge of the city and the harbor. Once part of the ‘old’ harbor economy, the area is surrounded by working class neighborhoods (all currently ‘Krachtwijken’). Any connection to the existing city is done through a neighborhood that is struggling.

And last but not least, Merwe Haven is ‘buitendijks’, which means that it is situated outside of the dike rings that protect the Netherlands from being flooded. As the sea level is rising and the Maas river is expected to push more water through the city, any new project in the area should be prepared for high water levels. Merwe Haven thus should solve a number of problems in one go: strengthen the local knowledge driven and green economy, creating excellent living conditions and attracting higher educated people, empowering the people in neighboring ‘krachtwijken’ and improving sustainability within the city.
The workshop:

This workshop is based on the notion that the future of cities is increasingly defined by climate change and socio-economic shifts in society. In the case of Rotterdam: the rising sea level and the increase of water flowing through the Maas on the one hand and the changing economy from fossil to postfossil, knowledge-driven, on the other hand. Both tendencies result in a need for domestic areas that are ‘climate proof ’, that enable residents to develop themselves and that provoke social interaction among the inhabitants of the area and surroundings.

Merwe haven is an ideal place to connect climate adaptation with social interaction. First of all it’s situated ‘buitendijks’, meaning that it’s in the harbor, outside of the dike ring that protects Rotterdam from flooding. As the sea level is rising and more water will flow through the Maas, new buildings should be prepared for flooding. How should a new neighborhood in Merwe haven relate to water? Should it flood every now and then, should homes be floating, should the whole area be lifted to provide the needed protection against water? And moreover, when will water become an asset instead of a threat?

Secondly, the area should attract the group of highly educated, creative people that currently leave Rotterdam. How will this area be interesting for them to stay? What amenities should be provided? What type of houses? How should the new neighborhood be connected to the surrounding areas?