Achieving a Water-Resilient Rotterdam: Past, Present and Future Perspectives


  • Nanco Dolman Deltares
  • Johan Verlinde Municipality of Rotterdam




blue-green infrastructure, climate adaptation, sponge cities, water resilience, water urbanism


Rotterdam has a close and essential connection with water, both as a port city and a delta city. As a low-lying city situated in the estuary of the Rhine and Meuse rivers, most of the city (85 per cent) lies below sea level, and some areas are as low as 7 m beneath sea level. Except for the main port area, the remaining 15 per cent of the city lies in outer dike zones. Since evacuation is nearly impossible, adapting to climate change presents a significant challenge. This vulnerable delta city is continually revisiting its approach to water threats and climate change is demanding a new round of interventions. The historical fight against water is being abandoned in favor of living with water. Water connects and brings leverage. By creating more space for water and promoting blue-green infrastructure in the built environment, Rotterdam is becoming climate-resilient, greener and more livable. Rotterdam’s blue-green transformation to a sponge city of the future (2100) aims at achieving SDG 11 (“Sustainable Cities and Communities”) and has the potential to fulfill targets regarding climate action (SDG 13), the protection of water quality (SDG 6) and the restoration of biodiversity (SDG 14 and 15).

How to Cite

Dolman, N., & Verlinde, J. (2024). Achieving a Water-Resilient Rotterdam: Past, Present and Future Perspectives. Blue Papers, 3(1).





methodologies and case studies

Author Biographies

Nanco Dolman, Deltares

Nanco Dolman is the leading expert on water-resilient cities at Deltares, the Netherlands, and has wide experience in integrated (urban) water and spatial development projects. Nanco has worked on various water and adaptation strategies for delta cities in Thailand, the Netherlands, the United States, Bangladesh and China. From 2011 to 2016, he was a part-time lecturer in Water Management in Urban Areas at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. He has also been involved in several international “blue-green cities” research studies as an applied researcher and field expert, such as with the EU Interreg NSR – CATCH project (2017–2022) and the British Academy-funded “Developing Blue-Green Futures” (2019–2021). Since 2021, Nanco has been participating in Redesigning Deltas (RDD), a research-by-design study that aims for a new Dutch condition in delta urbanism. One of the RDD designs is Rotterdam Sponge Water City 2100. Since 2020 Nanco has been a member of the editorial team of IWA’s Journal of Water and Climate Change.

Johan Verlinde, Municipality of Rotterdam

Johan Verlinde is a climate adaptation and sustainability expert working as program director for Climate Adaptation at the City of Rotterdam. In his role as program director, Johan is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the “Rotterdam Weather-Wise” Climate Adaptation Plan. This plan aims to prepare the city for severe climate hazards, such as heavy rainfall, flooding, heatwaves and drought, by collaborating with citizens, the private sector, social housing corporations, water boards and citizens.Johan’s expertise lies in devising innovative climate-adaptive measures in public spaces, where space is scarce. He recognizes the importance of climate-proofing private spaces, which will become increasingly critical in the future. Johan is participating in several international collaborations, including C40 Cities, where he shares and gains knowledge on climate adaptation. He was a PUB Singapore Water Academy fellow from 2019 to 2021.


De Urbanisten, LOLA and RHDHV. 2022. ”Redesigning Deltas design study ‘Rotterdam, from a Port City to a Port Archipelago + Sponge Water City 2100.” Delft University of Technology. Accessed February 5, 2024.

Dolman, Nanco. 2021. “Integration of Water Management and Urban Design for Climate Resilient Cities.” In Climate Resilient Urban Areas: Governance, Design and Development in Coastal Delta Cities, edited by Rutger de Graaf-van Dinther, 21–43. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dolman, Nanco. 2024. “Dynamic Water Resource Management for Regenerative Cities.” In The Circular Economy and Liveable Cities, edited by Robert C. Brears. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Forthcoming.

Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, the Netherlands. 2000. A Different Approach to Water – Water Management Policy in the 21st Century. The Hague: Reinders Partners.

Municipality of Rotterdam, Water Authority of Hollandse Delta, Water Authority of Schieland en Krimpenerwaard, and Water Authority of Delfland. 2001. Water Plan 1.

Municipality of Rotterdam, Water Authority of Hollandse Delta, Water Authority of Schieland en Krimpenerwaard, and Water Authority of Delfland. 2007. Water Plan 2 – Working on Water for an Attractive City.

Municipality of Rotterdam, Water Authority of Hollandse Delta, Water Authority of Schieland en Krimpenerwaard, and Water Authority of Delfland. 2011. Recalibration of Water Plan 2 – Working on Water for an Attractive and Climate-Proof City.

O’Donnell, Emily C., Noelwah R. Netusil, Faith K. S. Chan, Nanco J. Dolman and Simon N. Gosling. 2021. “International Perceptions of Urban Blue-Green Infrastructure: A Comparison across Four Cities.” Water 13, no. 4: 544.

Rotterdam Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) Team et al. 2015. “Rotterdam Resilience Strategy; Resilient Rotterdam. 2022. Rotterdam Resilience Strategy 2022 – 2027.” Accessed on March 10, 2024.

Rotterdam Climate Initiative. 2013. “Rotterdam Adaptation Strategy.” Accessed on January 27, 2024.

Rotterdam Office of Climate Adaptation. 2019. “Rotterdam’s Weather-Wise Plan.” Accessed on January 21, 2024.

Rotterdam Office of Climate Adaptation. 2023. Rotterdam’s Weather-Wise Program Framework 2030.

Rotterdam Office of Climate Adaptation, and Centre for Livable Cities, Singapore. 2019. Living with Water: Lessons from Singapore and Rotterdam.

Van Vliet, Mathijs, and Jeroen Aerts. 2015. “Adaptation to Climate Change in Urban Water Management – Flood Management in the Rotterdam Rijnmond Area.” In Understanding and Managing Urban Water in Transition, edited by R. Quentin Grafton et al. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Waggonner, David, Nanco Dolman, Derek Hoeferlin, Han Meyer, Pieter Schengenga, Sabien Thomaesz, Japp van de Bout et al. 2014. “New Orleans after Katrina: Building America’s Water City.” In Proceedings of Built Environment 40, no. 2: 281–99.