Foto: Erasmusbrug skyline rotterdam VanRoon
14 october

Shocks and stresses: Rotterdam's strength and resilience

Is Rotterdam resilient enough to fight COVID-19 and how can we emerge from the pandemic stronger? ‘Right now, more than ever before, it’s all about resilience,’ according to Arnoud Molenaar and Naomi Sonneveld from the Resilient Rotterdam municipal programme. ‘Now is the time to show how strong and resilient you are.’


Being prepared for shocks and stresses

‘Resilience is all about making the city and its society resilient. Are you prepared for shocks and stresses? That’s the kind of crisis the COVID-19 pandemic is,’ says Arnoud Molenaar, Resilient Rotterdam’s Programme Manager and the city’s Chief Resilience Officer. ‘Corona has kept all of us busy on a global scale and that is definitely quite unique. This is the ultimate time to show how resilient you are as a city. How quickly can you recover as a city? Do we want to return to the standards we had in place before the corona crisis? And how do you come out stronger? These are questions we are working on as a programme. That’s the only way you can continue to grow and be better prepared for the next crisis. Effectively dealing with changes like this is becoming increasingly important. Although we may not always be able to see a crisis coming, resilience also means you can adapt and be flexible.’


Ready for the future

The Resilient Rotterdam team is trying to make resilience a fixed agenda point for as many programmes and projects as possible. All in an effort to make the city even more resilient and ready for the future. Arnoud Molenaar: ‘This will often involve climate change. But the corona pandemic is certainly also very prominent in our presentations! Of course we’re right in the midst of it at the moment. How diligent and united we are right now where tackling this pandemic is concerned shows us we're capable of a great deal when it really matters. As far as I'm concerned, this is a perfect example of how we should be tackling climate change. After all, we were already in the midst of a crisis, it just wasn’t being sufficiently acknowledged!’


All in this together

So how is Rotterdam doing in this crisis resulting from the corona pandemic? Arnoud Molenaar: ‘The administration and the civil service are acting very impressively. It’s great to see how everything was initially launched. A crisis team and an Impact and Aftercare team have been put together. The city also launched a robust recovery and investment programme entitled Rotterdam Stronger Through. A tight package of measures was put in place in no time at all. Resilient Rotterdam joined in with the (crisis) team discussions, thinks along with and provides medium and long term advice to reduce vulnerabilities if possible.’ The connection to the international Resilient Cities Network is crucial, especially now during this corona crisis. The cities talk about their initiatives to fight the coronavirus during weekly Coronavirus Speaker Series webinars. Arnoud Molenaar, put forward by Rotterdam as the Chief Resilience Officer: ‘We are the linking pin in knowledge exchange with other cities around the world. There is a huge need to share information. We’re all in this together.’


Future proof

Naomi Sonneveld, Deputy Chief Resilience Officer: ‘It’s relevant to analyse what’s going well and what could be improved, in order to make sure we come out of this more resilient. We embed the resilience philosophy in the policies and documents we produce. We share knowledge and inspiration, both locally and internationally, including through news items about the webinars and newsletters. We’re introducing resilience as a relevant component in urban projects. This means we want to integrate several aspects which can strengthen the city’s resilience in projects, making sure they can optimally contribute to the city’s resilience.

For example, the renovation of the residential De Peperklip complex was used for a broader approach, within which various different climatic, economic and social aspects were integrated. A greener outdoor space has been created and a natural roof was constructed which drains away the rainwater. The residents were involved in this, allowing them to acquire some valuable work experience. Outdoor space is now once again proving to be crucial for the recovery measures in the city during the pandemic. This is expressed in, for example, more space for terraces. Opportunities to adapt the outdoor space is therefore an important focus point.


Stronger through

Arnoud Molenaar: ‘Resilience also means a more diverse economy, which can ultimately absorb more blows. Many SME’s have proven to be quite vulnerable, as became apparent during the lockdown in March this year. While there are certainly also various start-ups and IT companies which are truly thriving. And there’s a kind of digital revolution going on. Look at all the people who can now work from home. Let's focus on even more smart technologies and digital solutions which will allow us to become resilient. For example, how can we make sure we reach the elderly too? There are still plenty of opportunities. The same digital revolution now also provides continuity, because many of us can continue working from home. There’s every chance this is at least partially going to be permanent. How great would it be if we could use the remaining office space for that other task: the huge demand for homes.’

Resilient Rotterdam anticipates the opportunities and risks associated with new developments by, for example, staying in touch with various parties, such as residents, companies and (knowledge) institutions. But also by linking initiatives which are going to improve the city’s resilience to municipal programmes and vice versa. The Chief Resilience Officer is happy with the seven city projects which are now getting a welcome boost via Rotterdam Stronger Through. Projects which bring together, among other things, greening, housing and the urban economy. Hofplein and Westblaak are turning into park squares; the Prins Alexanderplein through route will be a nice place to stay; there will soon be a park on the roof of the Hofbogen. ‘The energy transition is also one of the areas where we’re hoping to create more economic opportunities. And Rotterdam will also become more climate-proof with more greenery via the seven city projects.’


Social resilience

Arnoud Molenaar: ‘So the question is, how can all Rotterdammer residents benefit from all these short and long term measures during this corona pandemic. How can you ensure social inequality doesn’t become a bigger issue? Rolling out initiatives together with the city improves the economy and reduces inequality. It strengthens social resilience. We want to make use of start-ups and involve cultural organisations or other institutions. We’re going to enthusiastically encourage any form of collaboration.’ This also applies to knowledge exchange, Naomi Sonneveld adds. ‘Erasmus University (EUR) is conducting research into the social impact of the corona pandemic. They’ll be including resilience in this research. And we’re giving the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences cases about corona. We’ll be challenging them with assignments in order to truly anchor the resilience philosophy. We prefer to do this together with the city.’


Anticipating the future

‘Working on a strong and resilient city is a permanent task, as we’re naturally constantly subject to changes as a city. The COVID-19 pandemic has once again clearly proven that,’ says Arnoud Molenaar. That’s why it’s important to continue to closely monitor developments and to respond to the subsequent opportunities and risks. It’s important to maintain a dialogue with relevant parties in and around the city in order to achieve this, and to bring them into contact with each other. This will allow for fantastic, new initiatives to be created, which will contribute to the city’s resilience.’ For example, Resilient Rotterdam is working on a future-proof and resilient city for and with Rotterdam residents.


Resilient Rotterdam RCN

Resilient Rotterdam is a programme initiated by the Municipality of Rotterdam, which is committed to a sustainable, safe, united and healthy future. That’s why it’s working on firmly embedding strength and resilience in the city’s thoughts and actions.

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