Why a Summer School?
Among the many challenges faced by our cities today, water management is one of the most pressing. Challenges include the provision of fresh water and sanitation to growing urban populations in the global south, the preservation of natural water environments, pollution and contamination of water sources, flood risk management and tackling the consequences of climate change (ICPR, 2013).
The Netherlands has a long and rich tradition of dealing with water issues in urban management and planning. Initially a country built on “thick water”, threatened continuously by the sea, the Netherlands is known today as a reference for outstanding achievement in combining water management, urban design and planning. Building on territorial conditions that even the Romans considered inferior forced the Dutch into vision building, cooperation and carrying out urban plans collectively as early as the sixteenth century. The Dutch are leaders in engineering and in technological solutions for dealing with water issues, particularly flood risk. Much has been achieved in reclaiming and protecting the land, but in the face of continuing environmental threats and climate change this battle to contain flood risks is now seen as futile. This means that rather than fighting the water, the Dutch now seek to work with the water system in order to create more sustainable and prosperous cities and regions.
This paradigm shift has produced new approaches towards safety and urban development. In order to promote safety from flooding from the sea and rivers, a “Multi Layer Safety Approach” was introduced. Here, there are three levels of safety advocated. The first is protection, the second is adaption and the third is retraction. Another crucial policy that represents this paradigm shift is the “Room for the River” programme, which enables rivers to cope with huge amounts of water flow and limits the risk of flooding. This programme is reversing some of the past engineering works to allow rivers to flood large areas of land in times of risk in order to protect the rest of the country. Rijkswaterstaat (the Dutch Agency for Public Works and Water Management) is using the “Room for the River” programme also to improve the overall environmental quality of the delta and to prepare for climate change.
At the urban level, Dutch municipalities have produced Water Plans that do not restrain themselves to technical solutions for dealing with rainwater, but are looking for durable and resilient spatial solutions that can be incorporated into the planning and design of urban environments, such as water squares, parks and underground water storage.
These water management policies and measures have consequences for how cities and regions are designed and managed. They imply different ways of occupying the land and managing territories, different ways of planning and design, and require new adaptive ways of co-habitation with water bodies.
But how can all those things be designed and implemented in a modern planning framework, where participation, accountability, efficiency and economic feasibility are key elements? Through the elaboration of visions and urban plans, the Dutch have successfully implemented strategic spatial planning that effectively integrates the technology of water management and urban development.
 Hooimeijer, F.L. (2011) The tradition of making: polder cities. Delft: TUDelft