Category Archives: water

Introduction to Hamburg

Harbor tour and a walk through St. Pauli

“Welcome to Hell.” This is what we read on signs and graffiti as we exited the Hamburg train station. As we made our way to the hotel, we saw similar signs that all expressed an anti G20 sentiment. In the days leading up to our arrival, thousands were protesting capitalism, climate polices and globalization, among other issues, but some of the protests became violent. Rioters took to the streets smashing windows, looting stores, and starting fires, all of which left the streets littered with a tremendous amount of glass. The initial shock of the past events were eased as we saw citizen after citizen walking along the streets with their children and friends to clean up the glass off of the streets. It was a beautiful to me to see such citizen involvement and participation from the people of Hamburg in order to heal the wounds that were inflicted upon their city.

Our tour guide, Ralph, explaining to our group how the public are involved in the design of developments in Hamburg.

Later in the day, we went with our guide, Ralph, on a tour of Hamburg’s harbor. Walking to the harbor, we saw multipurpose water barriers. When these water barriers are not in use, they are simply steps and a place for people to walk or watch the water. However, these devices can elongate on rails adjacent to them in order to prevent water from going into the streets. The Port of Hamburg is located on the river Elbe, and it is Germany’s largest port. This busy harbor is home for an array of ships including container carriers, tankers, cruise ships, and many others. The depth of the harbor is an issue that it is currently dealing with. The present depth of the harbor is not deep enough for larger world ships to come through the port, and there is discussion about whether or not it should be dredged in order to accommodate them. Many environmentalists are concerned with the ecological implications of dredging. Also, the city has been struggling with the EU Commission as well as the people living in the surrounding area over these issues.

The boat that took our group around the Port of Hamburg. Our tour guide narrated the harbour tour.

After the harbor tour, we walked through some of the St. Pauli district of Hamburg. In this area, there is a lot of public participation in influencing governmental decisions. For instance, there have been areas where companies have tried to kick out tenants, but locals have occupied the buildings to ensure that there is housing for those of low income. Because of these public actions, the government created a new participation process to increase public engagement and input from the citizens for the architects and planners to use. This plan led to pictures being put up to illustrate what a space could look like, and the public would then, in turn comment, on the proposal. This idea allows designs to put people first while showing that the city belongs to all.

Another strong example of public engagement was seen through the Garten Deck in St. Pauli. The Garten Deck incorporates flowers, beehives, compost, and seating for the public to enjoy. This urban garden was formed as a self-organized space that demonstrated to politicians the desire and need for public space within the city.

-Stephen Lapp

Water Works

How The Dutch Utilize Their Overabundance of Dihydrogen Monoxide

Today we visited the historic Kinderdijk project in South Holland, NL. Kinderdijk is a system of windmills which have (and continue to) pump water up and out of a floodplain in order to make the ground their arable and habitable. Begun in the first half of the 18th century, the windmills (molen in Dutch), 20 in total, were constructed in a pattern of rows flanking a submerged parcel of land along the banks of the Maas river. The molen are ordered such that there is a sort of staggering in height as the water progresses through their ranks. The first set, a set of three mills, takes the water from where is naturally lays and pushes it through a turbine, stepping it up a degree in height. From there, the water enters two taller channels where 17 mills (16 of which still remain) bring the water from these channels one step further, pushing it into the neighboring Maas river.

An impressive view of several Kinderdijk molen (Dutch for “mills”)
A look inside one of the Kinderdijk windmills. The mills housed not only the machinery for the turbines, but also the millers themselves, who lived and worked in small rooms like this one.
The Erasmus Bridge which crosses the Maas River in downtown Rotterdam.
A view of the “Net Kous” (Net Stocking), a metal, tube-like structure which surrounds the Randstad Rail line in front of a business complex.

After visiting Kinderdijk we took a waterbus to Dordrecht. Before speaking on the latter, I would like to spend a moment discussing the integration of multimodal transportation across the Netherlands, as I have seen it. To get to Dordrecht, we had to switch vessels, take land and sea-faring means of transit, and interacted with a variety of differing companies along the way. All of this was done seamlessly by way of the OV ChipKart and its component scanning devices, which allow riders to slip between bus and bike, train and tram, and even waterbus, without ever having to deal with tickets or cash. By simply holding the card (after having made sure it is charged with enough money to cover the cost of transit) up to a scanner, the rider is allowed to enter and ride, checking out when they exit. The simplicity and well-oiled nature of this system is evident every time we travel in NL, but especially today, when aquatic vehicles too were involved, did it really strike me how messy such a process would have been if we had been traveling in, say, the US.

Looking out the back of the waterbus we took from the mediary dock (featured in the previous picture) to Dordrecht. This was the largest and fastest boat we rode on while staying in The Hague.
The gang hanging out on the back of the Drechtsteden, a small, ferry-like vessel which took us from Kinderdijk to a mediary dock, on which we caught a waterbus to Dordrecht.
Waiting on the platform of the Metro station directly below the Grote Markt, in downtown The Hague.
Moving sidewalks in the Rotterdam Central station, heading towards the river Maas.

We finished up the day in Dordrecht. The city did not possess much in the way of Smart development or Renewable Energy adoption, but another theme of urbanization was present. It was obvious that the town was dying, slowly but surely. Infrastructure, very well maintained everywhere else we had visited, was failing. Graffiti was visible everywhere, and though there was not an overwhelming homeless population, on Monday afternoon there was hardly a soul out on the streets. It was not until we reached the train station that real signs of life were present. So it is back in America as well, that areas on the periphery of growing cities languish in their shadows. Dordrecht proves that this is a global phenomenon, and thus a problem that we must face together.

An empty side street in Dordrecht. Lonesome views like this were common there, betraying a town in decline.
The Dordrecht mascott, a sheep, featured here all-dolled-up in a shop window.

-Forest Schweitzer

Amsterdam’s Canals: History and Uses Today

A reflection on our tour of Amsterdam’s canal system

The iconic image of Amsterdam is not without its canals. Amsterdam is a city of canals, often dubbed the “Venice of the North.” They tell the story of its growth as the city relied on this extensive canal system to transport people and goods before modern transportation technologies existed. However, Amsterdam’s canals still serve useful purposes and they still define the city we visited on Thursday during our canal tour.

The view of a canal from one of Amsterdam’s hundreds of bridges. Private boats that are used by residents to get around line the edges.

Most of the canal system that exists today was constructed in the 17th century, during the Dutch Golden Age. Three concentric semi-circles were built around the medieval city center and were labeled as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. As the centuries went on hundreds of narrow streets and narrow canals developed to create an expansive canal system. Some portions of the canal were constructed for military purposes while others existed for trade, water management, or residential purposes. Today there are about 1,500 bridges in the Amsterdam area.

The canal cruise company we used. There were a large number of different companies in the city center. Some offered regular tours and others offered fine dining, drinks, and more with the canal tour.

The canals today are primarily a way to transport around the city. A municipal water bus services a few routes throughout the city that locals and visitors use. From my observations during the tour, the canals are used for tourism more so than general transportation. Many canal tour companies lined the water outside of the central train station. Canal tours are an important part of Amsterdam’s tourism economy, carrying more than 3 million passengers each year. Historic buildings and landmarks line the canals making a thriving tourism industry. Most of the boats we passed on the canal were other canal tour services. However, there were a good number of pedestrian boats on the canals, both personal boats and water buses.

An example of a larger houseboat on the canal. The houses behind it are famous for being crooked.

Our tour guide also mentioned the canals are used for public events and special celebrations held for the city. Each year there is a celebration that, as one of the traditions, involves hundreds of locals going for a swim in the canals. In the wintertime, the canals are used for ice skating. Hundreds of years later, the canal system is an integral part of the social and economic life of Amsterdam. Finally, the canals are also home to hundreds of houseboats. These houses are permanently anchored along the canal edges and they are plentiful.

The large canal just in front of the main train station (not pictured) where we began our tour. Two other tourist boats float before us.

The canal tour demonstrated the unique way Amsterdam grew. It was constructed with canals in mind, not cars and roads like most American cities. While dredging up canals is not something American cities should invest in, there are lessons to be learned from Amsterdam’s land use planning. The canals have forced Amsterdam to develop narrow, walkable streets. The city and its population are dense, creating a vibrant city center that attracts people and businesses. The canals are coupled with strong biking and streetcar systems to create a multi-modal transportation system that makes it easy to navigate the city in a clean, efficient way. American planners can learn a lot from Amsterdam’s development for how it has created a world-renowned and sustainable city.

-Duncan Richey

Delta Works

Delta Works flood protection infrastructure

Our day was spent traveling to Deltapark Neeltje Jans to learn about the Delta Works projects. Deltapark Neeltje Jans is both a theme park and a Delta Works educational center. Throughout the Netherlands’ history, they have benefited from being in close proximity to the sea, but the sea has also been a great source of danger. Since a large portion of the Netherlands lies below sea level, the country has had to create innovative systems to protect from flooding. The Delta Works are the largest flood protection system in the world and include storm surge barrier, dikes, dams and sluice gates.

This exhibit was located in the Delta Expo and is an overview of water infrastructure constructed from the Delta Works projects.

After we arrived, we explored the Delta Experience. The Delta Experience is a lively visual that took us back to the night of January 31,1953 where we witnessed the devastation that occurred during the North Sea Flood of 1953. During this flood, seawater breached the dikes destroying homes, roads, telephone lines, and sweeping away many people and livestock. This visual gave us a glimpse at what that night was like for those affected as well as educating us about how the Dutch responded.

A small scale replica of the Eastern storm surge barrier.

After the Delta Experience, our group watched a brief film that provided further information about the systems the Netherlands implemented to protect from flooding. In response to the traumatic flood of 1953, the government initiated the Delta projects to provide security from the water. We learned that they began construction with smaller dams first in order to get a better understanding of the building process and to gain the experience to construct the larger projects. Some of the techniques used during construction were borrowed from the military such as the use of caissons, which had been used for quick formation of artificial harbors. They also created new techniques such as using mats to protect the seafloor from being eroded.

The location we were visiting was the Easter Scheldt, and it was considered to be a complex area of the Delta Works projects due to the large amount of water flowing in and out with the tide. Because this area is an estuary, it provides habitat and resources for numerous species. Debate began over whether or not the Eastern Scheldt would be sealed off or remain tidal, but they finally decided on a storm surge barrier that would allow water to flow in and out. I thought this was very interesting because the health of the environment was considered during this project, and many times decisions are made without thinking about how it could cause adverse effects in other areas.

Sea level markers located on the storm surge barrier. The bottom marker is 3m above average sea level and the gates will close when water is predicted reach this mark or higher. The top mark is where the water levels were during the Flood of 1953.

One of the most exciting parts of our day was actually getting to visit the storm surge barrier. I had seen images of the barrier, but it was impressive to see in person. The storm surge barrier was completed in 1986. The barrier closes whenever sea level are predicted to be 3 meters or higher. Water level forecasts are determined from a constant supply of data coming from weather and water monitoring systems on land and out at sea. This data is then used in computer simulations to predict tide levels 10 hours in advance. Decision makers can make the call to close the gates when they receive these predictions, but the gates are also capable of closing by themselves incase of an emergency. They had a museum in the interior of the storm surge barrier that provided us with information as we moved through the facility.

Students walking through the storm surge barrier. The black gate on the left closes when sea levels are expected to be 3m or higher.

This was the second piece of large-scale flood protection infrastructure that we had visited on our trip in the Netherlands; several days before, our group visited the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier. They have taken aggressive steps to combat flooding and have done so in a proactive way, which is important because this issue will only continue to worsen as sea level continues to rise. This is very important as the rest of the world turns to the Netherlands to learn how to implement water management infrastructure. The United States has already felt the affects of climate change with storms like Hurricane Sandy or with urban flooding in Miami. As the climate continues to warm, sea level will rise and storms will become more unpredictable and cities need to be prepared to manage the water that will accompany.

Water flowing through the storm surge barrier. This is important to ensure that water can flow through the gate to preserve the ecology of the area.

-Stephen Lapp

Water, Wind, and Transportation

Storm Surge Barriers and Biking Infrastructure Experienced First-Hand

Today, our teacher and Hague enthusiast, Cor Rademaker, indulged us with over 70 km of biking (yes, we mapped it) between the city and Dutch countryside, exposing Holland’s hidden gems and sustainable qualities. We traveled to Schipluiden and Maasland to experience the expansive biking infrastructure before stopping at the Hoek Van Holland to learn about storm surge protection.

Biking infrastructure extends all along the beach, cutting through the dunes to make bike travel easy and accessible.
Biking infrastructure outside the city is well marked and easily navigable.

Our tour began heading out of town towards the smallest village in The Netherlands, ‘T Woudt. On our way, we paused to discuss the social housing within The Hague and how it is situated near the tramline, making it workable for those without cars. Because public transit is so common here, there seems to be much less of a stigma associated with social housing than in the US. Cor informed us that 70 percent of new housing built in the Hague is dedicated to social housing. Once we got out of the city, we entered cow country. We learned that cows are an important part of the Dutch agricultural economy since most crops struggle to grow in the brackish water that lines the fields. Across the bike path from the cows there were greenhouses that seemed to be go on forever. These greenhouses were used to grow grapes for wine production. After a quick stop at Holland’s smallest village, we stopped at a rural café to regain the feeling in our legs before heading back out to check out Schipluiden and Maasland, two small towns. Our main stop for today was to visit the Maeslant Barrier Rotterdam, a storm surge barrier. After biking six and half kilometers against the wind, we made it to the top of a hill overlooking the barrier. The barrier is a structure so big that it takes four years and over 300,000 liters to paint. Completed in 1997 and costing over 660,000 Euro, the Maeslant Barrier was designed to protect the city of Zuid-Holland by taking the full brunt of flooding from the sea. In order to do this the structure must be able to sense its surroundings and act quickly. Because it takes around 30 minutes for the arms to close, the system relies heavily on sensor technology and is completely computerized (even if we went extinct the gates would still close). Among other things, the sensors detect changes in sea level rise, wind speed, and wind direction. Once the water gets to three meters above sea level, the computer sends out a message to the city alerting the ships that the gate will soon be closing. To make sure that the system is still functioning, the barrier is tested once a year and is expected to be needed once every ten years, although it may be more frequent in the future due to climate change. The structure is completely self-sufficient and self-protecting. The structure is powered by its own power plant. In fact, there is a power plant built for each arm. In the case that one was to fail, there is a wire that runs under the river to provide power to the other. If both were to fail, there is a diesel engine that can be used to power both arms, but this takes more time to close the arms. The structure protects itself from damage by not closing completely. When the gates are fully closed, there is an 80 cm gap between the arms to allow for the inevitable movement during heavy storms. Water moves much more rapidly through the arms once closed because there is a much smaller space for water to move. This could serve as a source of energy in the future, but the tour guide said that they were not there yet with the necessary technology. Although grueling, the day was very informative. Besides learning about storm management in The Netherlands, it was interesting to see just how quick and easy it was to get out of the city via bike. There are so many bike paths, even in places you wouldn’t expect (like the countryside) that truly make not having a car easy. The city is planned around biking infrastructure, making it not only safer for bikers but also more sustainable.

Greenhouses are an important part of the Netherlands crop production. These greenhouses are growing grapes for year-round wine production.
With arms as long as the Eiffel Tower is high, the Maeslant Storm Surge Barrier protects the citizens of Holland from experiencing massive flooding during extreme weather. Plus, it is one of the wonders of the modern world!
The building behind this group of students is a 100% sustainable town hall building. The thatch roof serves as an excellent insulator!

-Megan Gwynn

Urban Renewal in Rotterdam

A new approach to the urban farm

In the morning we walked to the station and caught a train to Rotterdam. We had a meeting with at an urban farm called Op Het Dak, but we took our time walking there. Along the way we passed some architecturally unique houses called Urban Treetops, which appeared to be slanting down toward the street. These houses were built in the 1970s in an effort to liven up the city center with “playful architecture”. Then we meandered through the Market Hall, which was held in the center of a huge ring-shaped residential building. I bought a bizarre-looking fruit called a crazy melon and enjoyed it as we walked. As we approached the building we passed through an area that has experienced tremendous urban renewal. In order to make the area more accessable, a massive pedestrian bridge was built out of wood and painted yellow. The bridge passed by a small community garden, made in a former deposit for building supplies. The bridge continued up to a train station that is in the process of becoming the Dutch equivalent of the New York Highline. This trio of inviting refurbishments is meant to encourage people to spend time outdoors and encourage pride and commitment to the surrounding community.

Inside the Rotterdam market hall visitors can pick up spices, produce, meats, cheeses, or enjoy a warm meal with a view of the Pencil, a neighboring landmark.
The slanted Urban Treetop homes require some creativity to live in and make the center of Rotterdam appear more playful and lively.

Upon arriving at Op Het Dak, we took the elevator up to the top floor and were greeted by Wouter Bauman. He explained that in 2012, the building was scheduled for demolish, but the architect stepped in and proposed a plan to give it new life by inviting creative companies to move into the builder. Bauman explained that the bottom floor was home to a popular Biergarten, and the other floors of the building housed other community-oriented organizations. Then he presented his personal project; the urban rooftop garden, overlooking the center of Rotterdam. The city offers a hefty subsidy for people starting rooftop gardens because they minimize the heat-island effect in cities, increase biodiversity, and work to prevent runoff and flooding. The garden produces a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, edible flowers, and even honey to be sold and served at the charming restaurant that shared the roof. Bauman explained that the biggest challenge with rooftop gardening was distributing and managing weight in a way that the roof could support. The edges could support more weight, so were fitted with polystyrene planters where deeply-rooted fauna could be grown. The rest of the roof was covered by several layers of plastic, film and soil in order to prevent damage to the roof. Because of the limited amount of soil that could be used, the garden was mainly comprised of plants with shallow roots. However, this didn’t seem to present a large obstacle for the garden; ruby raspberries could be seen warming in the sun, the vines of bean plants bowed under their heavy pods, and pollinators (including bees from Op Het Dak’s own hive) buzzed lazily around the rooftop. In addition to being exceedingly fruitful, the garden has received much media attention and is even listed on travel website Lonely Planet as one of the top attractions of Rotterdam. Although the garden does not use any pesticides, its produce is not considered organic because the soil used is not natural. Nevertheless, Bauman explained that the compost, which was comprised of food and plant scraps, provided some of the fertilizer used to nurse nutrients into the soil. After a few minutes of wandering around the garden and grazing on the fruits and vegetables, we settled down at the small rooftop restaurant and were treated to a healthy, wholesome lunch.

With the long hours of intense summer sun, Op Het Dak’s garden is thriving.
The compost pile in the corner of the garden is a step in the company’s effort to be sustainable.
The yellow pedestrian bridge, which passes over a major road, makes the area around Op Het Dak more inviting and accessible.

After lunch we left Op Het Dak and moved in the direction of the harbor. Along the way we passed a few large regions of pavement sunk below the level of the ground. These pits contained steps and jumps for a skate park, but during heavy rains a series of gutters would direct the water into them to form ponds and alleviate flooding. Upon reaching the harbor, we split up into groups and took our time returning to our hotel in The Hague.

Because of its low altitude and rainy climate, Rotterdam has been forced to get creative about managing water. This recreational area doubles as a pond during times of heavy rainfall.

-Ayla Gizlice