With a Little Help From Their Dutch Friends, Could New York Become New Amsterdam?

“In recent days, the Netherlands’ peerless expertise and centuries of experience in battling water have been widely hailed in the United States as offering lessons" for New York and for other cities alike, writes Andrew Higgins.

2 minute read

November 20, 2012, 11:00 AM PST

By Erica Gutiérrez

So, what is it that makes the Dutch way of preventing floods so compelling as a model? The operative word here is preventive, but it is also based on years of experience.

"[A]n elaborate and highly effective Dutch defensive system... includes flood-control techniques first developed in the Middle Ages and futuristic steel structures that, operated by computers, move to block storm surges when water levels rise too high," describes Higgins. Dutch expertise is based on a history of dealing with mighty storms and devastation, as well as consequent policy decisions and capital investment aimed at preventing this in the future. With that said, the Dutch government has spent billions in large construction projects such as the Delta Works, including steep annual maintenance costs for these systems.

Challenges the U.S. would face in implementing flood prevention strategies would include changing its approach to disaster mitigation from a focus on management to one centered on avoidance. "The U.S. is excellent at disaster management," but "working to avoid disaster is completely different from working after a disaster," says Wim Kuijken, the Dutch government's senior official for overall water control policy. Furthermore, the U.S. would need to leverage funding for comparable megaprojects, and finding ways to tailor flood prevention strategies to the local geography and situation.

For New York, this might not necessarily translate into building huge barriers the Dutch way, but finding more appropriate and less expensive solutions like building flood-proof entrances for subway stations and parking structures, warns Bas Jonkman, professor of hydraulic engineering at Delft University of Technology. In fact, in recent years, Dutch prevention measures have also shifted towards prioritizing "enlarg[ing] defenses in a natural way," says Kuijken, including dumping "706 million cubic feet of sand off the coast north of Rotterdam to promote the formation of protective sandbars."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 in The New York Times

Rendering of electric scooters, electric cars, light rail train, and apartments in background.

Arizona’s ‘Car-Free’ Community Takes Shape

Culdesac Tempe has been welcoming residents since last year.

February 14, 2024 - The Cool Down

Aerial view of suburban sprawl with large single-family homes near Dallas, Texas.

The Changing Shape of American Suburbs

Housing costs and availability are pushing more American households, including young families, to suburbs and exurbs — and they’re demanding changes.

February 13, 2024 - Business Insider

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

Google street view of wide grassy median in Beverly Hills, California.

Beverly Hills Installs First ‘Green Street’

A three-block median featuring native plants and bioswales is part of the city’s broader effort to reduce water consumption and pollution.

6 hours ago - Beverly Press

Habitat for Humanity volunteers in construction helmets buildign a wood-frame house.

Habitat for Humanity and Missoula Land Trust Team up on Affordable Housing

The partnership will ensure the new homes will remain affordable for future buyers.

7 hours ago - KPAX

Orange California poppies in bloom over gently rolling hills in Southern California's Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve.

Experiencing California's Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve

Located in the western Mojave Desert, this stunning state natural reserve is renowned for its breathtaking displays of California poppies and has even been referred to as California's most beautiful place.

February 22 - California.com

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

The Walkable City

Harvard GSD Executive Education

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.