RCD as Rotterdam Climate District
TEXT: ANTOINETTE STAS | PHOTOGRAPHY: ANTIM
Solving problems brings great opportunities. The self-proclaimed Climate Team took a closer look at the problems facing the development of Rotterdam Central District into a climate-adaptive district; a district that aspires to be both healthy and appealing, almost like a forest in the middle of the city.
In its report, the Climate Team describes the context of RCD, the current climate conditions and the historical development in which water and greenery became so important. Next, the climate strategy is presented, both for now and the coming years. Finally, four cases illustrate various ideas to better equip the district for climate change.
Strategy and Execution
The independent research with receommendations is a direct response to the new RCD District Vision, titled ‘Rotterdam Central District_Next Step’, issued in 2017. “While sustainability is explored here, there is much more to it than the vision paper suggests,” says Frido van Nieuwamerongen, one of the founders of Arconiko Architecten.
“Our agency is leading when it comes to sustainability and it was a logical step for me to get involved in the development of climate adaptation in RCD. We sought out others to join us in this process: plein06, SteenhuisMeurs and designlab 2902.” The Creative Industries Fund NL, Rotterdam Municipality, Cultural Heritage Agency (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science) and the RCD Association supported the research that outlined the strategy and provided elements for execution. This includes expanding water collection, preventing heat stress, improving air quality and minimizing wind nuisance, but above all enhancing the quality of life.
Linde Elsinga, landscape architect at plein06: “RCD is appealing, but not all parts of the district are equally pleasant to be in. The district is a largely gray area of stone and concrete: just 7% of the surface area has vegetation and there is hardly any water visible. The presence of greenery and water makes neighborhoods more enjoyable.”
Arconiko is located on the top floor of the Groot Handelsgebouw. “Looking down at Stationsplein, we notice patterns. People usually walk over the entire square, but in the summer they avoid the center. People then tend to move along the shaded edges of the square where it’s cooler. So, people interact with climate whether they realize it or not,” explains Van Nieuwamerongen. He refers to the history of Rotterdam, a time when green promenades and canals had an important role to play. “Our study shows that it’s not as complicated as it seems to make a gray district like RCD greener and climate-adaptive. Imagine a forest: the air quality is good, and the system of water collection, distribution and evaporation is in equilibrium. We’re looking for that kind of equilibrium here, and it’s possible too.” Elsinga nods in agreement: “To achieve this, a continuous ecological network is needed, one that stretches beyond RCD. The plants function as a water buffer and contribute to improved air quality. The green and blue structures of the city, plants and water respectively, are not only important for climate adaptation, but also for recreation and living and for the ecology of the city.” Van Nieuwamerongen also points out the relevance for wind nuisance: “You can’t completely cancel out the wind, but you can soften it with measures like textured façades and windscreens.”
Exciting developments are coming soon to RCD. The green plots on either side of the station will be lost to construction. Elsinga: “The vegetation necessary to create a dominant green structure in this area must cover at least three times the amount of space lost to the buildings on these plots. This can be achieved with green rooftops, green terraces and urban agriculture. That’s quite a challenge, but it’s not unreasonable. All of these ideas can be realized with today’s technologies and there’s plenty of innovation in the pipeline,” says Van Nieuwamerongen. Such elements have all been considered in the study. “We didn’t hold back with our ideas,” argues Van Nieuwamerongen, “and if you think about what can be done now, just imagine what will be possible 20 years from now. With the current congestion levels, adding water structures to Weena is not an option. However, with the adjustments to Coolsingel and Hofplein and the introduction of car sharing, less space will be needed for cars and a water boulevard can be added. This will be a tremendous upgrade for the area. Although it’s not about making one grand gesture, it’s about an entire system. Starting small and continuing to expand to reach the focal point on the horizon: a fully climate-adaptive RCD.”
The Climate Team has been active for about a year and a half now. In 2018, a great deal of work was done to increase awareness and involvement with activities such as symposia, lectures and tours. Van Nieuwamerongen: “We want to take immediate measures so that people can experience the positive effects of the changes. This could include organizing a climate festival, planting colorful spring flowers and installing water sprayers to cool off public spaces with heat stress. This will demonstrate that measures for sustainability offer more benefits than only improving the climate and collecting CO2. Climate adaptation is also a wellness generator.”
Rotterdam is working towards a climate-resistant city. Johan Verlinde, manager of Rotterdams Weerwoord – a municipal plan and policy framework to encourage dialogue with the public about preparing for the city’s changing climate conditions – explains that the municipality is cooperating with the water boards and drinking water company for this purpose. “New developments must have a positive effect on the climate as experienced by the public. Densification of the city is inevitable, but this must not negatively impact the effects of climate change, such as heat and water management. There is dialogue at the neighborhood level, and arrangements are being made based on these discussions for measures in both public and private spaces. We had already planned to build water structures at town squares and will now also add more greenery to school yards. A subsidy scheme will be introduced in 2020, focused on private individuals and companies, to stimulate climate-adaptive measures.”
Rooftop water storage in RCD
Atop the Delftse Poort central hall is a complete water storage system with a variety of plants and grasses, beehives and bird breeding grounds. Thanks to a buffer space with holding capacity equal to 1,000 bathtubs of rainwater, this green-blue rooftop will soon help prevent flooding in the surrounding area. With the extra greenery – good for humans and animals – it also makes for a pleasant environment.