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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article9 November 2022European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency

Street LIFE: helping EU cities cope with extreme weather

Sustainable climate adaptation solutions can help protect cities against the devastating effects of climate change. Rotterdam is leading the way through the LIFE URBAN-ADAPT project. 

LIFE14 CCA/NL/000302
LIFE14 CCA/NL/000302. All rights reserved. Licensed to the European Union under conditions.

Like many urban areas, Rotterdam is vulnerable to climate change. Extreme weather events like floods are on the rise and often result in human tragedy, loss of life and economic losses. The environment also suffers - wildlife habitats are destroyed, and water bodies are polluted. 

In addition, rising temperatures in the summer, coupled with all the buildings, cars, and asphalt absorbing this heat, results in what scientists call the urban heat island effect. This heat negatively impacts nature, biodiversity and human health. 

The situation looks set to continue and even worsen as our planet gets warmer.  

Rotterdam's LIFE URBAN-ADAPT project team is tackling these problems by experimenting with climate adaptation measures across the city. 

'We embarked on several nature-based design processes with other stakeholders. By creating together instead of just developing a masterplan, they mutually transformed unused harbours into biodiverse tidal parks and stony inner-city areas into green and blue spaces. As a result, stakeholders and residents felt ownership over these public spaces,' says LIFE URBAN-ADAPT project coordinator Helmi Hansma 

Going green in the Zomerhof quarter 

Project partners upgraded a sewage system in Vijverhofstraat, a street in Rotterdam's Agniesebuurt neighbourhood, which had struggled with a groundwater problem. They installed a new rainwater sewer to collect clean rainwater separately from the sewage water. And they developed a water storage system to ensure the groundwater level remained stable. The new system retains rainwater for longer and allows it to gradually drain in order to prevent flooding.  

Meanwhile, a courtyard in Rotterdam's Heliport housing complex has been completely transformed. Residents, including children, could contribute ideas and make decisions during the process. Various greenery and flowers have replaced stone, and a clean water sewer has been built. These are intended to make the courtyard greener and climate-proof. Water is collected and directed to flow around and through the complex. The square's new playground equipment is made of wood, and there is even a 'worm hotel' to obtain compost from organic waste for use in the courtyard. 

The team also built a rain garden on a former parking area, enabling rainwater to drain into the ground instead of overloading the sewer system. Large letters in the garden, which spell out the name of the neighbourhood, contain innovative barrels that collect rainwater from the roof of a nearby building. These are linked to the online weather report and respond accordingly, holding on to water when drought is forecast and draining it off when a downpour is expected. 

By the time LIFE URBAN-ADAPT finishes in 2023, there should be around 11 550 m2 of new green infrastructure in the inner city, 800 m3 extra water storage capacity and 10% less nitrogen dioxide reduction in the air. 

The above actions support the EU's 2021 Adaptation Strategy. The plan sets out how to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change and become climate resilient by 2050. 

Two tidal parks along the Nieuwe Maas river 

Rotterdam has developed quickly over time. Many stone quays were built for shipping, but they didn't do much for biodiversity. 

It was time to bring nature back to the people. 

At two Nieuwe Maas river locations, Nassauhaven and Keilehaven, the team restored 37 500 m2 of river borders. The process involved removing the hard, paved borders and replacing them with more natural alternatives, creating tidal parks along the banks. 

Both tidal parks improve water quality while boosting biodiversity and flood resilience. 

'It's great to see city children enjoying the mud on the tidal parks. They hike up their trousers, kick off their shoes and get into it. We think that's really cool,' says ARK Nature deputy director Esther Blom. 

The tidal parks align with the EU's Floods Directive, which aims to curb the negative impact of flooding on human health, the economy, the environment and cultural heritage. They also contribute to the EU's Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and its recent Nature Restoration Plan, which aims to restore damaged ecosystems and bring nature back across Europe. 

A city to enjoy 

LIFE URBAN-ADAPT is making the metropolis a safer, greener and healthier place to live in – a vision supported by many Rotterdammers.  

'I hope Rotterdam becomes a circular and climate-proof city – a city shared with plants and one its residents can enjoy,' says Johan Verlinde, programme manager of the Rotterdam Climate Adaptation Plan. 

Find out more about LIFE URBAN-ADAPT 

Project description