Rotterdam, Netherlands: Burch Tackles Resilience in ActionJune 28, 2023
Students in the UNC Burch Sustainability program have learned one main concept from this day: how to move cities forward in a sustainable and resilient way. We feel as though we could conquer anything and it has only been the second day of our week-long adventure in the Netherlands.
A group of us woke up a bit early and found breakfast at a local bakery named Bakkerswinkel Rotterdam. The hostel we are staying in is located on the best street in terms of restaurants and social spaces.
After breakfast, we walked to BlueCity at 9:00 am for a tour of its facilities. BlueCity is a circular economy incubator and an innovation hub. Since 2015, they have turned a water park and recreation center (formerly known as Tropicana) into the revolutionary hub that they are today. They were essentially waiting for a building that was going to be demolished. Within the space, BlueCity has implemented local university spaces, work/business hubs, places for events and gatherings, and labs/maker spaces in the basement for circular entrepreneurs building their sustainable companies. The operations manager, Marc ten Oever, stated that they invented BlueCity to impact the rest of the world. Some examples of entrepreneurs’ work include growing seaweed to produce biodegradable building materials, making leather from fruit such as mangoes, and using excess water created during beer brewing to create a plastic alternative. One company called Semillas is working on centralized water treatment facilities to become the first indoor closed-loop water system. Marc ten Oever stated as long as you have a sustainable idea you can put it in motion! Currently, BlueCity is trying to build an education center and brewery from previously-used materials. By preserving and repurposing buildings, energy is saved and the environment is less impacted. This visit was by far one of my favorites. Promoting and demonstrating the circular economy in this way was something I have never seen before. If possible, I would love to see something like this in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. BlueCity should be the prime example for incubators moving forward.
After our wonderful visit with BlueCity and some lunch, we met up with Johan Verlinde who is the program director of Urban Adaptation for the City of Rotterdam. We were able to learn more about Rotterdam-specific water management strategies. Placing a focus on climate adaptation and resilience strategies for urban areas, the city has incorporated water-storage courts (like the one shown below), BMX skate parks, green water storage, and rain barrels into thirteen neighborhoods. They have been able to repurpose these areas because of community involvement and participation. By allowing them to vote on urban planning around their neighborhoods, people feel as though they are truly heard. We were able to learn of future plans in the area where the old train tracks are in the second image. A greenway will be developed- similar to the High Line in New York. This by itself raises property values of homes, increases biodiversity and ecological restoration, features stormwater management, creates a social space for the community, and promotes accessibility and inclusion. In this tour from a water management professional in Rotterdam, I learned just how much this city cares about its citizens.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the beautiful Rotterdam. It is actually amazing how we can go to the store or eat right across the street. Let’s just say it will be remembered when I go back to my hometown!
Redevelopment and resilience are key factors of sustainable cities. Today proved that.
About the Author
This article was written by Ava Barlow ‘25, Environmental Science & Political Science with an Information Systems minor on the Burch Cleantech European trip.