Living with water: how memory and experience help build community resilience in Dordrecht

Author(s): Theresa Audrey Esteban

Abstract / Introduction (download full article at the bottom)

In 2021, Dordrecht, the oldest city in the Netherlands, will be commemorating the 600th anniversary of the St. Elizabeth flood. This disaster flood event inundated the entire Dordrecht and separated the city from Geertruidenberg. After the flood, Dordrecht was left with only the old city centre that the city had to reclaim their land. To date, Dordrecht has remained an island surrounded by water. The city’s vulnerability to flooding has prompted the city to actively participate in climate adaptation strategies and innovative design methodologies to help the island city cope with changing climatic conditions. Dordrecht is one of the cities participating in the Room for the River project which allows vast tracks of land to be flooded in the event of a big flood.

The city is also surrounded by dikes that protect parts of the city from any impending flood danger. Still, the historic city centre which lies in the unembanked area occasionally experience flooding. Every two to five years residents of Dordrecht especially in the old city centre experience some low-level flooding due to high waters and heavy rainfall. Yearly the city conducts a drill in the city centre to train people on how to place flood barriers and sandbags in front of their homes. However, there is also a sense of complacency especially for the areas in the city where the structural measures were heavily constructed (those that are within the dike). This feeling of complacency may have been placed due to their strong belief that the city is indeed safe due to the structural measures that have been carefully integrated to ensure that flooding will never happen again. Memory-based disaster experience can be the starting point in building knowledge on disasters. Most often people who have experienced a disaster can provide experiential knowledge in dealing with disasters in the future.

Further people who experience disasters on a more regular basis have more built-in memory and knowledge. Using interviews from key stakeholders of Dordrecht, the paper will draw out how this memory-based disaster experience and living with water helps Dordrecht towards its vision to become a self-reliant island.

Publication: ISOCARP Congress Proceedings, pp.1701-1713
Year: 2019

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