Resiliency Goes Dutch: South Florida And Netherlands Officials Swap Strategies On Sea-Level Rise

Jun 27, 2017

When it comes to water, South Florida has a lot in common with the Netherlands. Both regions are close to sea level and rely on canals, seawalls and pumps to prevent flooding. And both face an increasing threat from sea-level rise.

So it makes sense that Dutch officials and South Florida leaders exchange a lot of advice on resiliency.

Margarita Wells is Miami Beach’s acting environment and sustainability director. She often sees Dutch consul members at panels and other events where local leaders discuss resiliency. She says one piece of advice stands out.

"The biggest thing and the most applicable thing here in South Florida is that for every dollar that we spend, we should be looking to solve multiple problems," she said.

That's what Nathalie Olijslager, the Dutch consul general in Miami, calls "multidisciplinary design." She said resiliency planning in the Netherlands often addresses multiple problems at once. For instance, when planners in the Dutch city of Rotterdam recently had to fortify a dam, they built shops into the wall and put a park on top.

Nathalie Olijslager, the Dutch consul general in Miami.
Credit Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Miami

"So it’s not only infrastructure any more," Olijslager said. "It also serves a function in the neighborhood."

A resiliency project at Maurice Gibb Park, 18th Street and Purdy Avenue in Miami Beach, uses a multi-functional design that Wells says has a Dutch influence. Designers achieved the overall goal of stabilizing the shoreline using both a traditional seawall as well as mangroves and large rocks. Wells said the natural elements offer more than just stabilization.

"It provides habitats for birds, it provides habitats for fish, it adds water quality benefits," she said. The mangroves, she added, also take carbon out of the air and beautify the space.

"There's a lot of things to learn from the Dutch," Wells said.

On the Dutch side, Olijslager said South Florida officials have provided a resiliency lesson in the way they prepare for hurricane season. She said her country has a lot of expertise in building resilient infrastructure and managing water, but could be "more organized" should those adaptations fail and flooding occur.

"Here if you look at your apps on your telephone, the way the authorities communicate, the way they have the evacuation routes set out, shops taken care of, selling extra water — it's a whole range of things," she said. "The way people respond once there is an emergency coming is something we in the Netherlands can learn a lot about."

Collaboration between South Florida and Dutch officials also takes place in the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities program, which includes Greater Miami and the Beaches and the Dutch cities of Rotterdam and The Hague. Read more WLRN coverage of 100 Resilient Cities here.