Cities should actively address citizens to reduce urban flooding

Heavy rainfall is increasing in frequency and severity due to climate change. Cities, like Utrecht, are particularly susceptible to flooding from rainfall because of their large share of built and hardened surfaces. This prevents rainwater from infiltrating and generates an increase in the pluvial flood risk of urban areas. How can cities deal with this issue? A study by Human Geography & Spatial Planning student Romy Brockhoff shows that citizens may play an essential role.

Romy Brockhoff wrote a bachelor thesis on the governance arrangements for rain induced floods in Utrecht. Her supervisors Stef Koop and Karin Snel considered it to be of such high quality that they jointly adapted it to a scientific article, which was consequently published in ‘Water’, a prominent open access Journal on water science, technology, management and governance. The article is the outcome of interdisciplinary collaboration between the Department of Human Geography & Spatial Planning, the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development and the KWR Water Research Institute.

From informing to actively involving citizens

The article shows that, in order to minimise pluvial flood risk, all involved stakeholders in cities need to collaborate to overcome barriers regarding climate adaptation. However, not only professional stakeholders are important, but also citizens need to be involved. In Utrecht for example, the potential of citizens has not yet been fully employed. Residents in Utrecht are currently insufficiently engaged in local decision-making processes on pluvial flooding. Even though the city succeeds at collaborating with public authorities, providing financial resources, and enabling high levels of evaluation and learning through smart monitoring, the flood risk awareness of citizens is limited. Also their engagement in policy making is rather low. Solely providing information and subsidies therefore does not seem to be enough. Citizens should be involved more directly and actively if cities wish to encourage them to take climate adaptive measures to protect themselves against pluvial flooding.

Practical recommendations on flood risk management

Based on this study, the authors recommend the city of Utrecht to consider including citizens more explicitly in the decision-making process regarding (pluvial)flood risk management. They also suggest that Utrecht broadens the scope of its policy instruments by implementing more binding rules, such as municipal tax on heavily paved gardens. In doing so, residents are expected to become more aware of and more engaged with pluvial flooding, which can strengthen Utrecht’s capacity to govern pluvial flood risk substantially.