Exclusive: How coastal cities can work together and adapt to climate change

By Sol Gonzalez

Vice Mayor of Rotterdam, Vincent Karremans, shares insights on how knowledge-sharing and geospatial data can contribute to building resilient cities for the future.

Vice Mayor of Rotterdam, Vincent Karremans, believes in a multi-purpose urban planning approach that attracts investments and benefits the citizens. Image: Eric Fecken.

The port-city of Rotterdam is known for its bustling harbour, its water taxis, and its beautiful skyline. But its relationship with its sparkling waters has not always been so calm.


The city’s history has been marked by constant efforts to tame devastating floods, and today, infrastructure like barriers and dikes protect the city from the dangers of the sea.


“Whenever you are working on coastal defence, you should not forget you are also doing urban planning in a city,” says Vice Mayor of Rotterdam, Vincent Karremans to GovInsider. He believes that a multi-pronged approach attracts foreign investments and generates good impact on people.


From a small fishing village to Europe’s largest port today, this delta city has learned to live with water by implementing Blue-Green Infrastructure, which aims to integrate water and nature into urban projects and build resilience against climate change.


Beyond coastal defence, the city has designed all water management and urban projects for climate adaptation while balancing both aesthetics and utility, adds Karremans.


With 85 per cent of Rotterdam below sea level, it is imperative for the city to adopt climate adaptation into urban planning.


Karremans shares how intercity collaborations and geospatial data are making Rotterdam more resilient against climate change and attractive to its citizens.

Geospatial data to inform efforts


Rotterdam has tapped on geospatial data to guide investments into the areas of the city that have the highest needs for climate adaptation measures, Karremans notes. 

Rotterdam has implemented Blue-Green Infrastructure to integrate water and nature in its urban design for climate adaptation measures. Image: Canva.

“Every euro that we would invest in climate adaptation, we could spend on education, culture, safety... so you have to make decisions where to spend money... to make sure that it is being spent well,” he says.


This is why the city has turned to geospatial data to inform and justify climate-adaptation measures.


Current projects combine functionality and appeal for the citizens to attract investment and contribute to building a liveable, climate-resilient environment.

For example, the WeatherWise programme enables everyone involved in city planning to integrate climate adaptation measures into their designs — from parks to road infrastructure.


Project leaders use geospatial data to identify vulnerable areas and target protection measures, guide plans for new spaces, and enhance existing places with blue-green infrastructure.


For instance, they can use data to identify spots in the city fit for “Pocket Parks” – public cool places with trees that provide shade on hot days and improve water absorption of the ground.


As an entrepreneur, Karremans seeks to innovate to create a positive impact for people by integrating the input and experience of citizens in making Rotterdam more resilient.


“If you tell people ‘I need to work on climate adaptation’, they probably won't care because it's not something that’s stuck on top of their mind... but if you tell them ‘look, I'm going to create a beautiful coastal park for you where you can go picnic with your family and have a good time’...they'll love it, right?” Karremans says.

Intercity collaboration


He mentions the green corridors that Singapore has implemented as part of its nature-based solutions in the city is inspiring him for further plans.


“Singapore is moving in the right direction and we can learn from it,” he says, encouraging mutual learning and continuous cooperation.


Events like the World Cities Summit and upcoming coastal cities sessions that are part of Singapore’s International Water Week are a concrete example of exchanging ideas and fostering intercity collaboration, he adds.


Knowledge-sharing among cities can help to bridge two challenges of implementing geospatial data and technology for urban planning: integration and standardisation, says Karremans.


Using the same model in geospatial planning can expand access to tools and lower the costs of implementing plans. He notes that widespread and standardised tools like Microsoft Excel, for example, enable comparison and speed-up processes across users.


Collaboration can facilitate data-sharing and performance-checking if everyone works together to build a standard model, Karremans says. Using data as a common language among city leaders and citizens is important to ensure transparency and accountability, he shared in a panel discussion at the WCS earlier this month.


Collaborating with other cities and getting inspiration from working models elsewhere makes it easier to access information on how to improve projects locally and to convince governments to fund the projects, Karremans adds.