13. Room for the River

We have all experienced the thrill of landing a hotel room with a view. But here is a ‘Room for the River’ in the Netherlands. While most people work hard at keeping the water out of their property, the Room for the River welcomes the river, into its legitimate space.
The land, Holland, which was mostly peat swamps was protected from the sea and rivers by building dykes about a meter high to protect crops against flooding. Many villages developed on higher terps or mud mounds. By 1250, most of the dikes were connected as a sea defense, particularly by monasteries. The type of dikes kept changing. A lot of wood was used till the arrival of the ‘shipworm’ that ate through the wooden defenses in 1730. Wood had to be replaced by more expensive stone, which had to be imported from abroad.
From growing grains, farmers had been forced to move towards sheep and cattle rearing due to the degradation of the soil. The Room for the River became a reality after over 2, 00,000 people were evacuated from the Rhine Delta. The project encompasses four rivers: the Rhine, the Meuse, the Waal and the Ussel. At a cost of 2.2billion Euro, it will complete 40 projects, include master landscaping and improvement of the overall environment. The plan includes the construction of a Green River as a flood bypass. The River will be given more space within its own flood plain.
For centuries, people here, built walls to keep the water out. Today, Holland with 26% of its land below sea level, is welcoming the water in. Engineers realized that building higher dykes will eventually lead to greater water overflows, putting 4 million people at risk.
The Room for the River, allows water to flow into empty land rather than homes and businesses. Many citizens have co-operated by moving their homes and offices to higher ground. The resulting nature reserves, urban islands have greatly improved the waterscape.
Each project manager is given a ‘Soldier Handbook’ or a detailed cook book. It helps in the step by step implementation of the project. The handbook has ensured coordination of the 40 projects with more the 17 local and regional governments. The plans were displayed on the office walls, so that citizens and stake holders have a clear view of what is happening. Buy in becomes voluntary and enthusiastic Town hall meetings and kitchen table talks helped to ensure voluntary, even happy relocation of families. Residents helped make the water front beautiful and interesting: a floating restaurant, a marina and an open nature area surrounding the concert area. Involving people made all the difference. In such projects, so much is lost when stake holders are spectators or victims.
The Room for the River creates a project that expresses respect and love for the river. Holland of course, is famous for its tulips that originally found their way from Persia and Asia Minor – from the court of the Sultan. But that is another story.

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Regards,
Dr. Rekha Shetty

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