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will let them oat if necessary. All 46 houses can tolerate
a four-meter rise in water levels. Though the houses have
been nished since 2006, the higher ones have not yet faced
a ood high enough to test them. "Everybody wants to see it
happen. Including the builder and the architect," jokes Cees
Westdijk, who owns one of the houses. His two-bedroom
house o ers beautiful water views; on the downside, an algae
bloom last year made for a nasty, if temporary, smell.
The Netherlands has designated 15 areas near riverbeds
as possible sites for amphibious developments, including
variations on the Maasbommel prototype. For the south-
west polder, researchers at Delft Hydraulics and Wageningen
University have already produced the rst risk maps, show-
ing which areas within its 50 square kilometers are most
vulnerable. National planners "look inside the dike ring and
make zones for how the water comes---fast and deep, fast and
undeep, slow," says Bloemen of the National Spatial Planning
Agency. Buildings could be customized accordingly; some
might always oat, others might rise and fall if needed, and
still others might simply be built to survive inundation with-
out sustaining major damage. "You [could] have building
restrictions appropriate to the relative dangers and ooding
probabilities within each subzone," Bloemen says.
For the southwest polder, university and gover nment
researchers are considering what kinds of development
might be suitable. One option is to raise water or ground
levels in parts of the polder and build amphibious or oat-
ing str uctures as appropriate; as a side bene t, raising water
levels would halt the decomposition of peat. Other areas of
the polder would be left at lower grades and could absorb
oods. A decision on what to do in the southwest polder is
expected in the next two years. Visions for other parts of
the country include oating towns, oat-
able roadways that could be used for evac-
uation, and tanks beneath buildings that
could hold oodwater. All of this would be
a big departure from the traditional Dutch
development method: throw a couple of
meters of sand on top of the ubiquitous
peat, install pilings, and pour the concrete.
Still, impressive though it sounds, erecting
oating or oatable structures is the easy
part. The hard part of adapting to climate
change is the planning, which requires
intensive forecasting, sophisticated mod-
eling, and risk mitigation strategies.
The Dutch approach is gaining adher-
ents around the world. "They are taking a
systems approach that includes smart development," says
Lewis E. Link, a former director of research and develop-
ment at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and now a pro-
fessor at the University of Maryland, who led a postmortem
federal investigation of Louisiana s levee, pumping, and
drainage systems after Hurricane Katrina. That means not
just restricting building in certain areas but being smart
about how to build in others. "I think in the U.S., we have
been far too prone to let people build in vulnerable areas that
then have to be protected," he says. "It is just a mad cycle.
We have trapped ourselves into this, over and over and over
again." Part of the problem in the United States, Link notes,
is that the federal government has little control over land
use, and local gover nments are often unwilling to challenge
developers in areas that may face higher threat levels. In the
Netherlands, the federal government can take more control,
says Balfoort. "Sometimes you must make a top-down deci-
sion for the bene t of the nation as a whole," he observes.
"You do not discuss Christmas with the turkey."
While it s not clear whether the United States federal
government will try to start making top-down decisions
about land use in threatened areas, at least Dutch-American
research cross-pollination is well under way. Link has just
completed an assessment of the New Orleans area---similar
to the one Mynett is performing at the Delft University of
Technology---to gauge the current risks posed to the Gulf
Coast by various storm scenarios. Mynett sits on a U.S.
panel making a similar assessment of the Sacramento and
San Joaquin River valleys in Califor nia.
All parties are watching to see how the Dutch fare with
climate-resilient housing. Given the dangers faced by coastal
areas and river deltas around the globe, the rest of the world
may soon beat a path to the Netherlands, clamoring for
technical expertise. But before anyone will come, the Dutch
must build it.
David Talbot is Technology Review s chief correspondent.
COURTESY OF DURA VERMEER
HIGH AND DRY CONCEPT A developer s vision of a floating
town, complete with greenhouses, is still just a vision. The Dutch
are doing risk analyses to decide where to build, where to forbid
development, and where to change construction techniques.
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