Tag Archives: featured

Can the US Replicate the Success of the Delta Works?

How the US can learn from the Netherlands’ Delta Works system

On June 27th we visited Deltapark Neeltje Jans to see one of the largest storm surge barriers in the world, which is just one part of the Netherlands’ extensive Delta Works system that keeps the country—more than half of which lies below sea level—from being swallowed by the sea. The facility, part of which is housed in the storm surge barrier itself, serves not only as a museum to explain the operation of the Delta Works but also as a memorial to the victims of the devastating Flood of 1953. In a visceral theatrical production, visitors are able to experience the night a heavy storm caused extensive flooding in the Netherlands that killed nearly 2,000 people and displaced thousands more, and ultimately prompted the Dutch people to find a way to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again—an effort that would eventually result in the construction of the Delta Works.

Part of the Delta Works at Deltapark Neeltje Jans, a storm surge barrier that prevents devastating flooding in many regions of the Netherlands.

The structure was impressive (though as a Public Policy major I was more awed by its success from a managerial rather than an engineering perspective), standing at about 3 kilometers long and made up of a series of retractable gates that can stop the flow of water in the event of an anticipated storm surge. What was even more striking to me was the decision to incorporate the storm surge barrier with a road on top of it, so that the structure served as both a means of transportation as well as protection against flooding.

Once the project was finally completed in 1997, the estimated cost of the Delta Works was approximately 5 billion Euros, which is almost $6 billion USD. Though this cost may seem superfluous and therefore irreplicable in the United States, one should consider that the damage from that single night in 1953 amounted to more than half a million USD, not to mention the loss of human life, farmland, and infrastructure. Following that tragedy, the Dutch were able to amass political support for preventative measures against storm surges that Americans have seemingly been unable to, even in the wake of devastating storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, which together caused nearly 2,000 deaths and cost over $170 billion USD.

A closer look at the storm surge barrier. The gates are currently open, allowing water to flow freely through the barrier. In the event of a storm, these gates would close, preventing the excess water from crossing the barrier.

Unlike the Netherlands, the vast majority of the US lies well above sea level. However, some of its most important cities—including New York City and New Orleans—are relatively low-lying and, therefore, susceptible to flooding during strong storms. Though the US has invested in some storm surge infrastructure, such as the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Lake Borgne Surge Barrier near New Orleans, it doesn’t compare to the Netherlands’ extensive Delta Works system.

In the event of a natural disaster, the benefits of investing in lifesaving, anti-flooding infrastructure in America’s most vulnerable cities clearly outweigh the costs. However, as with most policy issues in the US, politicians balk at the seemingly outrageous cost of creating this infrastructure, which would likely reach into the billions of dollars. However, as even US President Donald Trump has pointed out, investing in infrastructure creates many jobs and stimulates local economies. Rallying enough political support to fund such vast infrastructural endeavors may not be as difficult as it seems, particularly as coastal cities begin to contend with the inevitable sea level rise and intensification of storms that will accompany climate change.

-Amanda Peele

Biking Dutch

A discussion of what makes Dutch cycling so unique

The Netherlands’ incredible cycling infrastructure and culture resonated with me the most during our time there. It never ceased to amaze me because it is such a stark contrast to anything I have seen or experienced in the United States.

An example of the vast amount of bike parking available in the Netherlands. This underground parking complex was located right outside of a train station.

My home town is Charlotte, NC and if there is one thing we are good at it is, like most American cities, designing for the automobile. Probably 95% of Charlotteans live in the suburbs, including me. Although I am only ten minutes to downtown by car, it would take me at least an hour to walk, longer to figure out which bus could take me there, and risk my life to bike there. Everywhere I go in Charlotte I am forced to take a car. So biking in the Netherlands was a novel experience and one that taught me many lessons I hope Charlotte can learn from as well. The Dutch cycling culture is something I have vaunted ever since I arrived home.

The very idea of biking in The Netherlands is decades ahead of what it means to the typical American. Here it is not thought of as a mode of transport but instead as a form of exercise- primarily performed by people with enormous quads decked out in skin-tight suits and aerodynamic helmets on wheels with the thickness of a pencil. The Dutch don’t think of cycling as anything special, it is simply the most practical way to get around. Given this mindset, cycling is ingrained in nearly every facet of Dutch society. City planning has made traveling by bike easy, safe, and preferred.

A typical street in The Hague which was suited for multiple forms of transportation. The bike lanes are clearly distinguished from the car lanes with color and double white lines. The tram and cars shared the other portion of the street.

There are many small and large ideas that the Dutch have integrated to create this cycling culture. The first and most noticeable is the ubiquity of bike lanes. They exist on nearly every road and if they are not present it is for one of two reasons. One, the nature of the street is such that cars travel at slow speeds and it is understood bikes and cars share the road. This understanding is created by the design of the street. In The Hague it was typical of a street like this to be narrow and layered with brick or a material other than black pavement. Two, if bike lanes are not present on a street than there are most likely alternative routes for bikes that are safer and just as fast, if not faster. We learned about cycling superhighways that are located in The Netherlands and we experienced cyclist-only routes that were alternatives to highways that bikes were not allowed on.

On a large scale the omnipresence of lanes is important but it only works because of the details the Dutch have taken care of on the street level. The most important of which is the different color treatment bike lanes receive compared to the road. Throughout the Netherlands, we saw bike lanes that were a burnt-red to separate them from the automobile lanes. Something as simple as a color change makes cyclists feel safer and more comfortable riding in such close proximity to cars. In Charlotte, while we do have some bike lanes, they are the same color as the car lanes. Consequently, drivers drift in the bike lanes, cyclists don’t use the lanes, and it is as if they did not exist. The Netherlands show that something so seemingly trivial, is imperative for a successful cycling network. Moreover, cyclists are given their own traffic signals to create an efficient traffic flow and keep cyclists safe. Other details include wider lanes, extensive bike parking, shorter routes via tunnels and cut-throughs, and protected or separated lanes when necessary.

This path ran alongside a highway. Alternative routes like this existed when it did not make sense to include bike lanes on a busy road, like a highway.

I hope Charlotte can learn from the Netherlands. Creating a comfortable and successful cycling network is beneficial economically, socially, and environmental. In the Netherlands it doesn’t take facts and statistics to understand that either. It is clearly evident in the everyday life and observation of the incredible Dutch cycling culture.

-Duncan Richey

Smart Community Building

How places can help people form more and better social bonds

As the field of smart city planning gains momentum, it can be easy to lose sight of the big picture. New technology has the power to make our lives much more efficient, and perhaps more enjoyable. However, it can also have the ability to reduce how connected a community is socially, if the technology leads to greater real-world isolation. It is important, therefor, to be intentional when planning a community and to design infrastructure that will facilitate social bonding. Freiburg’s Vauban district contains many useful examples of community-focused planning.

A small pond in Vauban, Freiburg. Architectural diversity and plenty of green spaces can make urban environments more livable and aesthetically pleasing.

One aspect that isn’t immediately apparent is the effort taken to reduce the natural divisions within Vauban. Social housing and private housing are placed very close together, sometimes even in the same building. This leads to members of different economic classes being more able to interact with each other and share a sense of unity, rather than segregating the city into economically homogeneous regions. In addition, the centrally located Maria Magdalena Church helps to remove walls between separate portions of the population – literally. The building contains both a Catholic and a Protestant place of worship, but merges the two with some creative architecture. Two movable walls can open and shut, allowing both areas to become one large space for the whole community.

The inside of the Maria Magdalena church in Vauban, Freiburg. The building contains both a Catholic church and a Protestant church, which can be either brought together or separated using movable walls (a corner of one is viewable on the right side).

Planning and technology can also come together to create public spaces that generate more opportunities for people to interact with each other. Many of the housing complexes in Vauban were built with large open areas in the center, perfect for community gardens. There are many environmental benefits for increasing the amount of greenery in a city: a reduced amount of carbon dioxide, an increase in biodiversity, and a reduction of the urban heat island effect, to name a few. Crucially, there are also some positive social effects to having community gardens. They give a place for neighbors to meet and talk with one another. By creating a beautiful garden as a group, residents develop a sense of local pride and belonging. Another example of how eco-friendly ideas can have interpersonal benefits can be seen in the transportation infrastructure. Within the area, Vauban is geared towards cyclists and pedestrians. Its location right on a tram stop allows people to go to, say, the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday without ever having to use a car. Not only does this reduce fossil fuel consumption, but it keeps people in closer contact with each other and away from the relative isolation of everyone driving in their own individual cars.

Students view a community garden nested within housing complexes in Vauban, Freiburg. These areas not only increase the amount of green space within a city, but they can bring residents together by giving them a common space and something around which to build community pride.

Our group really enjoyed getting to explore Vauban ourselves. Many of us were struck by how many different smart ideas were packed into the area, some of which it took us a while to figure out. We all should view these as helpful examples of how best to create an urban area so as to maximize every resident’s sense of community and belonging.

-Keegan Barnes