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This Sports Field Also Helps Save The City From Flooding

In the Netherlands, flood prevention is a key part of urban design. But when there isn’t a flood, there’s better use for the water collection infrastructure.

Most of the time, the Watersquare Benthemplein looks like many public places. There’s room for basketball, skate-boarding, or just relaxing–whatever you’re into, really. Its second function only becomes apparent when it rains for a while. That’s when its three basins begin to fill with water, taking pressure off Rotterdam’s sewage system, and reducing the risk of flooding.

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Faced with climate change, many cities are thinking about how to cope with higher volumes of water. What’s different about Benthemplein is that it adds “resilience” (to use the modern term) while also providing something on days when you don’t need resilience. Its an investment in public space and flood protection at the same time.


The square, which opened last December, was developed by the De Urbanisten design firm. “We thought that it was a pity to spend such a lot of money on an occasional event,” says founder Florian Boer, referring to the underground pipes and tanks cities often use for overflows. “We thought ‘why not spend the money we normally spend below-ground above the ground?'”

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The square has two smaller basins that collect run-off from the nearby area, including building rooftops. A third, bigger basin takes water from a wider area. In all, the Watersquare can cope with 450,000 gallons of liquid, or the equivalent of 8,500 bathtubs. Eventually, the water drains to the ground or into a canal close-by.

Previously, the area was an austere post-war modernist space with little for people to do. “It was a big open and empty, and difficult to inhabit,” Boer says. Locals had long wanted the city to develop more facilities; the bonus of flood protection allowed officials to justify investment.

There’s also an educational benefit, Boer argues. “When infrastructure becomes invisible, there’s a risk that people don’t see it as a problem. They don’t understand how much money gets spent on these things. We said ‘let’s make it closer to people in some way’,” he says.

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“For the same amount of money, we can not only solve a problem, but create an opportunity. What cities do now is install more pumps and more pipes, and it’s just a never ending story. Also, people don’t really understand the problem.”

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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