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Ryerson Urban Water
Nina-Marie Lister

Nina-Marie Lister represented Ryerson Urban Water as part of a Canadian Mission to the Netherlands Sept. 20-25, 2015. The Mission had a packed agenda and toured several locations to learn about Dutch expertise and technological innovations in water management and urban planning. Themes included: innovations to protect communities from flooding and storm surge, innovations to reduce energy usage, reclaiming land to create new spaces, revitalization of old spaces with new uses, low impact development and storm water strategies, and sustainable urban planning.

 Nina-Marie Lister is an Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University. Nina-  Marie is also an active member of Ryerson Urban Water and her research interests and profile can be found at http://www.ryerson.ca/water/about/bio/Lister.html.

Model of Netherlands storm surge barrier
Model of Netherlands storm surge barrier

Nina-Marie Lister, Monday, September 21, 2015:

Busy day here on the Resilient Cities tour! We began the day with a welcome from the Dutch Ministry of infrastructure and environment and a helpful overview of governance structures for water management, including an introduction to the Netherlands' integrated policy for a sustainable Delta and resilient cities — some projects of which we will see over the next few days. Along with a number of enthusiastic schoolchildren we toured Maurodam, a miniature Netherlands — an almost scale model of the Netherlands' most famous infrastructure and architecture complete with working canals and demonstration of the Deltaworks projects: working sluices and moving storm surge barriers on the North Sea. Here, Dutch kids (and some adventurous Canadian visitors) learn hands-on about flood risk and water management by playing with operable sluice gates to save (or flood!) a tiny town. 

Our visit continued at TUDelft where Nico TIllie, a landscape architect gave us a tour of sustainable architecture at the “Prêt-à-Loger” house: an international award-winning innovative design for an energy-neutral house based on a traditional Dutch rowhouse.

 

 

Model Interactive Touchscreen
Model Interactive Touchscreen

After lunch we visited Deltares, the independent research organization at TUDelft that specializes in leading water management research for the Netherlands and other delta sites around the world. We heard about a number of their projects ranging from flood risk warning systems to a new and powerful dynamic flood model using cloud computation and data visualisation via an interactive touchscreen. Our group speculated (and marvelled!) on the power of this modelling tool from flood warnings to scenario building to public education and engagement. 

We ended our day at the Netherlands Water Partnership Office for a reception and networking event where we met a number of Dutch representatives of water organizations, agencies and companies keen to discuss partnership opportunities with Canadians. Here I gave a short presentation on the ambitions and activities of the Ryerson Urban Water Centre, on which I focused on our rapid growth in membership, interdisciplinary research and innovation in technology (from TORlets to greenroofs) as well as our leadership in international exchange, training and mentorship, and experiential learning.

 

Ecological Design for Landscapes!
Ecological Design for Landscapes!

Of particular interest to RUW were my meetings with Johan Oost, the Wetskills Coorindator and Pim de Jager who is helping facilitate the Urban Water Minor between Wageningen and Ryeron Universities, and our international exchanges — including Dave Atkinson’s soon-to-be-arriving group EUS. Pim and I exchanged updates on the Water Minor, which it’s clear is now moving ahead. (A team meeting is in the works for my return.) Johan and I talked about the possibility of broadening the disciplines in the wetskills competition and he encouraged me to send urban planning and design students as part of the next round. He assured me that the design disciplines—especially paired with engineering—would be a welcome addition to the competition given our charrette-based pedagogy and practice. We also talked enthusiastically about a variety of cases that would attract design thinking and spatial planning to some of the competitions. 

Pim and I discussed Wageningen's and Ryerson's shared and growing interests in interdisciplinary design for resilience and several opportunities for project-based field studios in both Toronto and the Netherlands that might rotate every year. I also met new colleagues in architecture, landscape and planning from D.EFAC.TO Design and PlusOfficeArchitects, two young firms specializing in interdisciplinary design practice using an evidence-based / research-basis as design. PlusOfficeArchitects is already working in Toronto having recently won a commission for MetroLinx, while Anne Loes Nillesen at D.EFAC.TODesign is working on coastal design for resilience with mutual colleagues in Galveston, Texas and New Orleans. Both firms are teaching-centered practices and expressed interest in hosting our students in the field or on exchange in a workshop setting. 

In all, it was a rewarding first day with lots of ground covered for RUW and our shared research and innovation interests. Full steam ahead!

Nina-Marie Lister

Rotterdam's Port!
Rotterdam's Port!

Nina-Marie Lister, Tuesday, September 22, 2015:

This morning was a rainy but fitting start to another great day on the Dutch Delta! We began in the city of Rotterdam on the old Port with an orientation from the director of city harbors. As with many global ports, Rotterdam has seen a marked increase in the size of ships over the past decades; as a result of the need to move more containers on larger ships, the port moved 40 km downstream, west to the North Sea with the construction of a new deeper channel and reclaimed land for the new “super port” of Rotterdam. The old port, near the city’s core had become obelete and derelict. The City has undertaken an aggressive program of redevelopment and revitalization: www.stadshavensrotterdam.nl. We heard about a variety of innovative initiatives. These included the remediation of contaminated soils, sustainable and adaptive reuse of the port buildings (as artists studios, tech start-ups, and innovation hubs) and of new ecological landscapes from urban agriculture to restored riverbanks. We toured the revitalizing port by the bus, ending at the impressive modern downtown, flanked by the Erasmus Bridge and the iconic de Rotterdam building by reknown architect Rem Koolhaas and OMA. 

For lunch we had the special privilege of meeting with Mr. Henk Ovink, Special Water Envoy to the Kingdom of the Netherlands who shared with us his international experiences in facilitating resilient city strategies — most recently in New York with the Rebuild by Design Project following his appointment by US President Obama. Delegates from Toronto, Winnipeg and the Vancouver area shared with Mr. Ovink our diverse ambitions for resilient city planning and design — all of which are centred on urban water challenges and for which became apparent, considerable opportunities for RUW collaborations. I was fortunate to have met Mr. Ovink several times during previous work in the Netherlands; I was glad to able to reconnect with him over lunch and to engage him in a discussion of the timely role for RUW faculty in developing industry partnerships, policy innovations and public education in in the context of Toronto’s emerging resilience strategy. Henk will be back to Toronto in early 2016 and we will follow up.

Benthemplein Water Square!
Benthemplein Water Square!

After lunch we met with two private sector companies engaged in groundwater technology and soil remediation, both with experience working on Toronto’s portlands as well (Groundwater Technology B.V. and Boskalis Environmental). We heard about the adaptive reuse and remediation of several former coal gasification plants in the old port. Through innovations in the treatment of contaminated soil (including removal and soil washing) as well as adaptive reuse of the architecture, these facilities are now becoming vibrant public places that celebrate industrial heritage and public landscapes in the revitalizing port.

Just in time for an afternoon cloudburst, we had a well-timed visit to the Benthemplein Water Square — an innovative stormwater treatment landscape and raingarden / playscape designed by Dutch firm DE URBANISTEN http://www.urbanisten.nl/wp/?portfolio=waterplein-benthemplein

We had a personalised tour of the plaza by the lead designer and we even got to the see the water holding, slowing and draining on site — as on cue, the skateboarders gave up their tricks as the basin filled with rain, and the plaza transformed from urban playcourt to raingarden. 

Port revitalization for climate resilience!
Port revitalization for climate resilience!

We ended our day in Rotterdam as the guests of the Canadian embassy to the Netherlands for another networking opportunity with representatives of some of the projects we saw in the port. Here I was able to meet with several local architects, urban designers and water planners to discuss students training and exchange opportunities. I also met with Eddy Moors of Wageningen University and we discussed the possibility of reciprocal masters thesis supervision and exchange by our respective students in climate change sciences, landscape design and architecture, and environmental planning. 

In all it was a terrific day of learning in Rotterdam. We continue tomorrow where we will visit one of the Netherlands’ pioneering programs in adaptive water management: the Room for the River plan for the Waal River. 

Stay tuned!

Nina-Marie Lister

EVA Laxenmeer Culemborg
EVA Laxenmeer Culemborg

Nina-Marie Lister, Wednesday-Thursday, September 23-24, 2015:

Wednesday was an excellent and packed day of activities with the Dutch mission — today in the Waal and Rhineland areas of southern Holland where we visited an ecovillage in Culemborg, the Room for the River Project in Nijmegen on the Waal (a tributary of the Rhine), and a constructed wetland as well as the National Liberation Museum and the Canadian war cemetery. 

Our first stop this lovely sunny morning was in the town of Culemborg at an established ecovillage called "EVA Laxenmeer.” The community was master-planned as an intentional community in the tradition of eco-villages, permaculture and sustainable communities. Planned in 2000, the village established after 2005 with a combination of market rent rowhouses and affordable housing units. Now at 15 years old, the community is well-established and includes common play spaces, lush gardens with sitting places, outdoor ovens, fruit and vegetable gardens (including an organic orchard) all of which are tended and shared by the community. Homes feature passive and active solar heating, greenhouse-verandahs, separated systems for grey and black water, green roofs, and a high insulation value. Storm water is treated on site in constructed biofiltration wetlands in each quadrant. (The black water is intended to go to a community bio-digester and energy facility, but has not been built yet.) There are charging stations on each block for electric cars, extensive bike paths, a local school, kindergarten and a seniors block with home-care support for aging-in-place.  Our guide acknowledged that the village has become a highly desirable place to live in the market rent has increased. We wandered for 90 minutes through a diversity of home styles, private and shared spaces — the sunlit gardens were lush with morning dew and trees heavy with fruit . Certainly it was the loveliest, perhaps utopian light in which to showcase the village as liveable and sustainable, an ideal example of vernacular and accessible ecological design. 

 

A man explaining something as a woman takes a photo of greenhouses

We changed course the next tour, heading for the Rhineland floodplain to a vast site under construction to make "Room for the River” at Nijmegen on the River Waal. Room for the River its a contemporary (integrated) Dutch policy in flood risk management and water safety that recognizes the inevitability of flooding with an attempt to relieve pressure points along the river by directing flood waters into a widened floodplain and away from settlements most at risk. In doing so, the RFR policy aims to move towards a hybrid water management system that works with the river's natural hydrology in conjunction with engineered structures. After a short and informative presentation— by the project manager as well as engineering, design and construction consortium representatives involved in this project —we toured the expansive site by bus. Essentially, the plan is to cut an approx. 2 km side channel in the river by bisecting an island. At a total cost of €350 billion the project involves 50 homes expropriated, 5 new bridges being built and the new channel cut and stabilized. The project is not yet complete and we were able to see the process of dredging, soil dewatering, and fill replacement at work by more than a dozen excavators and a fleet of heavy equipment. Clad in neon orange traffic safety vests, hardhats and rubber boots, our group made a cheerful assembly overlooking the construction — and quite a contrast to the verdant greens and black soils of the fertile floodplain, framed by today’s brilliant blue skies. (Even the white cows, deliberately deployed to keep the grass short along the dikes looked placed in the scene!)  

Waal River!
Waal River!
New river channel!
New river channel!

Following a lovely lunch at Fort Lent, a former military defence fort at Nijmegen, now a wine bar and local restaurant, we visited the National Liberation Museum to see a short film and hear a local (retired) reservist talk about the significance of the Canadians' role in the liberation of the Netherlands in 1945. We were also able to visit the war cemetery where more than 2200 fallen soldiers are laid to rest, most of them Canadian. Many of our group were moved—perhaps more than we expected—by the power of the place, its stories, and the deep absence of presence among the white rows of crosses. 

We concluded the day’s tour with a short visit to Waterrijk Park Lingezegen, a new parkland with several bioengineered wetlands being installed for the purpose of water retention and storage (to be used for flood water retention and storage in case of drought).  As the clouds moved in and the rains returned, it only emphasized the wetlands’ potential as yet another tool in the elaborate kit of Dutch flood management. 

This was my last day on the tour, and I’m sorry to leave the group as they head off to Almere for the final day of “Dutch Discovery.” I’m very appreciative of the strategic opportunities that emerged for RUW, all of which presented through a thoughtful and excellent organisation of events, sites and speakers. I’m looking forward to following up with both my Canadian and Dutch colleagues upon my return. Meanwhile, I have already heard from our colleagues at Wetskills that Prof. Dave Atkinson and his 35 Environmental and Urban Sustainability students have arrived for their field course in The Netherlands, and are keenly engaged in their tour. I was sorry not to be able to join them today, as our paths crossed in Amsterdam. 

I thank Ryerson Urban Water and also the Faculty of Community Services (Dean Usha George) for supporting my travel on this excellent professional development venture. 

 

Best Wishes,

Nina-Marie Lister