Two Dutch models of urban sustainability

Cities that face the greatest challenges often become the most shining examples of resilience and sustainable planning. Two such cities are Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Though different by nature - Amsterdam the commercial and tourist capital and Rotterdam an industrial port city - they both have bold ambitions to halve carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2025. This is fuelled by their vulnerability to the predicted impact of climate change, as large parts of both cities lie below sea level.

As a result of sustained action over the past few decades, Amsterdam is now recognised as one of the world’s most sustainable and liveable cities. It consistently ranks among the top five in the Siemens Green City Index, as well as in Forbes Magazine’s study of the world’s smartest cities. Rotterdam too has initiated a detailed climate adaptation strategy and aims to be 100% climate-proof by 2025.

Integration is the key

Both cities have adopted an integrated and innovative approach to resilience-building, providing greener power, transport and climate protection, as well as fostering collaborative partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Amsterdam has become a world leader in producing electricity, heat and products from industrial, municipal and water waste, and now provides waste-generated heating to 55,000 of the city’s 500,000 homes, with plans to increase this number to 200,000 by 2040. Similarly, Rotterdam’s new steam transport network is helping to reduce the CO2 emissions of local businesses by an estimated 400,000 tonnes a year. The city has also improved its resilience to flooding. It has covered more than 130,000 cubic metres of roofs with gardens to absorb precipitation and has built sunken plazas to collect heavy rainfall that might otherwise flood the sewerage system.

In the area of greener transport, both cities have also become world leaders in electricity-powered cars. By autumn 2013, Amsterdam had the highest density of charging stations in the world (650 in total) and a privately operated electric car-sharing scheme. Rotterdam has 1,100 electric cars on its roads – the highest number in Europe – and the largest global ratio of electric to petrol-fuelled vehicles.

Both cities’ vision for a greener tomorrow has led to their growing status as thought leaders in future urban sustainability, and they both actively promote knowledge-sharing with other cities. In September 2013 the City of Amsterdam announced plans to create a world-leading public-private institute that will explore new advanced city solutions. Likewise, in 2012 Rotterdam was appointed an EU Peer City for climate adaptation by the European Commission, giving it a leading role in the EC training programme to help other cities adapt to climate change.

The journey these two cities continue to make provides a blueprint for how other cities can build a more resilient and sustainable future. Our New Lenses on Future Cities report gives a detailed and forward-thinking view on the challenges cities around the world face and how they can tackle them effectively

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