Imagining the Dutch delta

Interactive session at Pathways to Sustainability conference

During the workshop ‘Imagining the Dutch delta’, which was organised by the hub Water, Climate & Future Deltas at the Pathways to Sustainability conference on 24th January 2019, some 40 people joined an active and lively process of imagining the Dutch delta in the year 2220.

In 6 groups the participants were asked to draw imaginary maps of the Netherlands showing land, sea, urban areas, agriculture, infrastructure, energy platforms and more, as well as giving some key features of the half-way point to the end goal of a sustainable delta. From the results, the groups were asked to formulate key knowledge gaps and research questions.

Interactive session at the Pathways to Sustainability conference 2019 organised by the hub.

During the 1 hour session each group designed the outline of a future delta, and defined the associated midpoints and research questions. The 6 resulting maps (shown below) show dramatic changes in the low-lying western part of the delta, with some interesting features. The present ‘Green Hart’ had transformed into a ‘Blue (wetland) Hart’ in all cases; there were some examples of an attack strategy with islands along the coast, but no major new land reclamations in the North Sea. In most cases the presently existing major urban ‘Randstad’ area remained protected behind large embankments, connected with new infrastructure across wetlands. Major shifts arose towards the east in housing, industry, and agriculture, bringing development but also spatial pressure to the ‘sand areas’. The SW delta was mostly abandoned, while there was little detailed change to North Holland.

Click pictures to enlarge.

There was some consideration of how the delta would look at the half-way point, and therefore how we would get to these radical visions of the future. Key elements mentioned included: urban areas with major embankments; greener urban areas with mixed land use; new wetlands and ‘room for water’ spaces to experiment with developing such areas; depolderisation; experimental islands; planning eastwards migration; community consultation; and, interestingly and most radically, anarchy as part of a tipping point to a new, more sustainable delta equilibrium.

Knowledge gaps in governance issues

While there were practical questions focusing on salinization, resilient infrastructure, food and energy production, funding, and sustainable natural barriers, knowledge gaps and research questions remarkably centred around governance issues:

  • how to arrange that people will start to move to the eastern part of the Netherlands;
  • what will be the role of government, how to undertake this governance inclusively, and what will be ‘autonomous processes’;
  • appropriate rates of and social barriers to change;
  • how to minimise disruption while altering the delta equilibrium;
  • maintaining communal identities throughout the changes; and research into transformative pathways.

As a final step, our artists compiled a ‘future delta’ based on the ideas from the six tables, and designed the last map in this report.

What will be next steps – and what can be in it for you: seed money?

As indicated during the workshop, we have opened a new call for seed-money projects. The workshop and its results may have raised new questions and research ideas, or a proposal to organize a further activity, or anything else you would like to do related to the Water, Climate & Future Deltas theme. We therefore have opened a new seed-money call: the hub offers grants for proposals for small projects that contribute to the hub’s theme and that may lead to further activities, knowledge transfer, research output or other ‘harvest’ items. We therefore invite researchers or stakeholders to submit a seed-money proposal; presumably you met some interesting people during the workshop, had nice discussions or came up with a great idea you would wish to explore a bit further. You can apply for a maximum of €20,000. The call closes on the 29th of March 2019. The proposal format and criteria for granting are given at the end of this report, and will be available on the website.

Visual impression of the Dutch delta of the future
Visual impression of the delta of the future. Credit: Erik van Tuijn & Corine Matser.