The power of design for imagining the future of deltas

How design can help to keep deltas livable and safe for generations to come? That was the main premise of the three-day international conference of ‘Redesigning Deltas’, organized with support from Resilient Delta. “The goal is to create new partnerships and to identify new research challenges for the next phase of the program”, said program director Chris Zevenbergen (TU Delft) in his opening speech on Thursday. 

On the first day over 100 participants were served with a program packed with renowned international delta experts. Representatives of eight deltas and speakers from many fields of expertise, from hydraulic engineering to transition science, demonstrated that a transdisciplinary approach is the only way to design solutions for the future of our delta. Minister Mark Harbers (Infrastructure and Water Management) underlined the economic value of deltas and at the same time the risks that deltas are facing. He wished that the conference would provide “inspiration for all the good work.” Delta Commissioner Peter Glas urged that we should start looking three generations ahead with all scenarios on the table. He hoped that a design-oriented approach would bring “the delta community to places where they have never gone before.”

“It’s important to involve a wide variety of disciplines and partners.”

Arjan van Timmeren

TU Delft

Scientific Director Resilient Delta

Be the emulsifier 

The Chief Resilience Officer of the City of Rotterdam, Arnoud Molenaar, emphasized that these many challenges should also lead to multifunctional solutions designs. That’s why Annemieke Nijhof, Managing Director of Deltares, stressed that knowledge sharing is crucial, especially between disciplines and sectors. “We should be the emulsifier that mixes things that otherwise can’t be mixed”, she said. A metaphor that proved to be powerful throughout the day. She held a plea for strong leadership and to make timely decisions despite uncertainty. “Otherwise you lack the time to do it in a proper and inclusive way”, she said.

Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change from Bangladesh, agreed fully and said “redesigning deltas should be above all people-centered.” Therefore, he finds it very important to create more awareness among the new generation. His plan to make a MOOC (or Massive Online Open Course) about life in deltas,= obligatory for master students in all disciplines in Bangladesh could count on full support. “How to move to the next level is our joint responsibility”, added Peter Odhengo, National Policy Advisor in Kenya. “That’s why we need to recognize even more our stewardship role.”

“To redesign our deltas also means reimagining our governance.”

Arwin van Buuren

Erasmus University

Professor of Public Administration

Power of imagination

Lively discussions and roundtables offered reflection and insights from  a variety of experts. Architect Gijs van den Boomen (KuiperCompagnons) made a case for more imagination: “Designers can show the future that might become and can cause a sparkle in the eyes of children”. Hans Mommaas (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) argued that next to a people- and design-based approach, systems thinking is important as interactions are often highly complex. National Policy Advisor Jannemarie de Jonge added that “a paradigm shift is unavoidable.”

“It’s important to involve a wide variety of disciplines and partners”, said Professor Arjan van Timmeren (TU Delft), who currently is Scientific Director of Resilient Delta from the Convergence Alliance. This was illustrated by the contribution of Professor of Urban and Regional Economics Frank van Oort (Erasmus University Rotterdam), who illustrated the tools that economics offers, for example to identify viable business cases. His colleague Arwin van Buuren, Professor of Public Administration, stressed the need for institutional change. He pointed out that traditional engineering is still dominant: “To redesign our deltas also means reimagining our governance.”

“It is important to keep considering various alternatives with traditional and green infrastructure mixed.”

Bas Jonkman

TU Delft

Professor of Integral Hydraulic Engineering

2120 vision

The shared histories of the port of Rotterdam and the river Meuse, as introduced by Emeritus Professor of Urban Design Han Meyer (TU Delft), proved to be a valuable tool for discussion. “Research-by-design helps you discover things you never expected, but at the same time designs can’t please everyone”, he said referring to a proposed nature-based solution that was not well perceived by the port of Rotterdam. Tim van Hattum (Wageningen University) shared the inspiring 2120 design for the Netherlands, which raised substantial (media) attention. He encouraged participants to come up with similar narratives for other deltas as “design helps to mobilize and energize people to a desired future.”

“It is not just about drawings and designs. We need to develop a transitional mindset for policymakers.”

Derk Loorbach

Erasmus University

Director of DRIFT and Professor of Socio-economic Transitions

Break old habits

Experts from many different disciplines shared very illuminating insights. Professor of Climate Change and Earth Systems Science Tim Lenton (University of Exeter) warned that some regions are facing dangerous tipping points. He also shared positive examples of tipping points in society,  Norway, which managed to shift 65 percent of its car fleet to electric engines within ten years. In a refreshingly optimistic talk, Professor of Hydraulic Engineering Bas Jonkman, (TU Delft) foresaw a leading role for the Netherlands, leveraging the existing engineering system in the nation. “It is important to keep considering various alternatives with traditional and green infrastructure mixed”, he concluded.

Transition expert Derk Loorbach (DRIFT & Erasmus University Rotterdam) elaborated on why it is hard to break old habits, and why people are reluctant to embrace a new way of designing. He encouraged all to reconnect more to our past and at the same time to have a more activist mindset. Loorbach: “It is not just about drawings and designs. We need to develop a transitional mindset for policymakers.” Finally, the floor was again taken by Chris Zevenbergen, who encouraged all to be both an activist and the emulsifier that Annemieke Nijhof brought up earlier. “There is a need for appealing futures and provocative designs can help with that. We have made a start today.”

 

Resilient Delta thanks Taneha Bacchin for the organization of this conference

“There is a need for appealing futures and provocative designs can help with that. We have made a start today.”

Chris Zevenbergen

TU Delft

Professor of Delta Urbanism

Any questions?

Michelle Damen

Business Developer