Resilient Rotterdam: Ready for the 21st century

Global developments offer local opportunities for Rotterdam.

Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb of Rotterdam today announced the city’s first Resilience Strategy – produced in coordination with 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation (100RC). Rotterdam is now one of the very first cities in the world to have a comprehensive Resilience Strategy, aimed at rising to specific 21st century urban challenges. Aboutaleb, who was accompanied by Rotterdam’s Chief Resilience Officer Arnoud Molenaar and Michael Berkowitz, President of 100RC, explained that this comprehensive strategy will ensure that Rotterdam, one of the largest port cities in the world, becomes an even stronger, more inclusive, more agile, more flexible, and futureproof city.

Rotterdam has historically provided innovative answers to resilience challenges – including centuries of solutions to co-exist with water and an ever-encroaching sea behind dikes and other water management solutions. The city has played a key role in exporting water management solutions around the globe, and Rotterdam’s Resilience Strategy builds on that legacy. Importantly, Rotterdam’s Resilience Strategy recognizes that a broader range of focuses – including focuses on cyber security and social cohesion and inclusion – now require as much focus as the city’s vulnerability to water.

The process to create Rotterdam’s Resilience Strategy, which builds on two years of partnership with 100RC, has helped the city think of resilience in a holistic way, considering a broader range of shocks and stresses than water management and climate adaptation. Laying out 68 actions and initiatives in this strategy, Rotterdam aims to become a city in which this new brand of resilience thinking is anchored in daily life, as well as in the actions taken by companies, institutions, government and citizens, the plan puts forward other solutions for physical, social, and economic challenges, including:

  • Tackling youth unemployment through 21st century skills training
  • Fostering greater inclusiveness across the city’s diverse communities
  • Building 1,000,000 m2 of sustainable roofscapes in the city center
  • Launch of Deltaplan Cyber, a cyber security approach developed in partnership with Microsoft

7 goals, 68 actions

“New developments arrive at a rising pace,” noted Mayor Aboutaleb on the strategy’s release. “Good preparation is a joint effort for all of us: citizens, companies and government. Our most important asset is our joint resilience. Do we help each other along, even with seemingly small daily actions? An entrepreneur providing an internship, citizens actively improving their street, making it a more attractive and healthier place to live. Anyone and everyone can contribute to a city in which every Rotterdammer is truly ready for the future.”

In 2014, Rotterdam was selected by 100RC as one of the first cohorts of cities, in part for its legacy of “Rotterdam is at the pinnacle of self-improvement and self-reinvention,” said Berkowitz, President of 100RC. “Their water and climate approach is one inspiring Rotterdam example of preparation, quality and robustness. We did, however, challenge Rotterdam to step out of their comfort zone, even in their strengths.”

Rotterdam accepted the challenge, appointing a Chief Resilience Officer, Arnoud Molenaar, to lead the analysis of Rotterdam’s resilience challenges with dozens of partners. Rotterdam Resilience Strategy confirms that Rotterdam is meeting many of its resilience challenges, but has an even greater opportunity to become a more resilient, inclusive city.

“Good news all around, even though it is one moment captured in time,” stated Arnoud Molenaar, the city’s CRO. “Resilience is more than managing water and more than being robust. Resilience is the new Robust: in addition to a solid fundament, 21st century transitions require flexibility, inclusiveness and resourcefulness more than ever. Research has given us insight in the most important transitions we face at the moment. These transitions were translated into seven goals and nearly seventy actions on seven scales.”

Citizen resilience, a swift energy transition, and cyber security are among the key issues in Rotterdam’s Resilience Strategy. Countless Rotterdammers, companies and organizations improve Rotterdam through their daily operations. Pilot actions will show the potential of resilience on different scales. Three iconic flywheel actions are 1,000,000 m2 of sustainable roofscapes in the city center, a ‘Deltaplan Cyber’ and a ‘Leadership institute.’

The latter will help the young – teenagers and people in their early twenties – develop their 21st century skills, as a crucial supplement to skills of trades. This promotes self-reliance and enables them to contribute to the economic transition cities like Rotterdam are going through. In association with the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, Rotterdam will research resilience by design in the 2018 and 2020 editions.

Resilience has long been part of Rotterdam’s DNA, as the city is a global leader in water- and climate-resilience. As part of the 100RC Network, Rotterdam hosted an official 100RC Network Exchange in the Fall of 2015, bringing together a diverse set of cities within the 100RC Network, including Berkeley, Calif. and Surat, India, to learn and workshop with leading water thinkers from Rotterdam.

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