Dutch Dialogues

The Dutch Dialogues Virginia brought a wide variety of experts on urban water management – from engineers to planners – to meet with their counterparts in Hampton Roads to discuss ideas and solutions for the future. The meetings were held June 19-23.

Experts offer ideas to reduce flooding

June 23, 2015 - A delegation of planners, engineers and architects from the Netherlands who came here to study flooding in Hampton and Norfolk presented their ideas for long-term solutions. News release Drawings or renderings from Dutch Dialogues


The initial Dutch Dialogues were held in New Orleans, and similar workshops have been held in New York, Bridgeport, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles. The Dutch approach to living with water integrates flood risk mitigation, engineering, spatial planning, urban design, environmental restoration, community amenities and economic development. While such integration is challenging, it provides an incredible opportunity for innovative approaches to improve the quality of life and economies of waterfront communities such as Norfolk and Hampton, the two cities participating in this workshop.

Why the Dutch?

The Netherlands is a low-lying country whose economy and identity is directly related to the water – consider the iconic image of the Dutchman plugging the dyke with his finger. A more modern and representative image is the hustle and bustle of the Port of Rotterdam, Europe’s largest, as the key driver of the Dutch economy.

One-third of the Netherlands is below sea level, and another third is at sea-level and subject to twice daily tidal flooding. The Netherlands is famous for its flood protection systems, which until recently have been purposed “to keep the water out.”
In the 1990s, the Dutch began to recognize unintended impacts of those measures on their environments and cities. Additionally, they began to assess the effects of changing climate, sea level rise, subsidence, increased winter and spring river flows, summer drought, groundwater depletion, and salt water intrusion on their landscape, economy, and public finance. In response, a new water management paradigm has taken hold in the Netherlands, often described of “from resistance to accommodation,” or from “fighting the water at all costs” to “living with water where possible."

Life at sea level

The “living with water” approach – which is also the Hallmark of the New Orleans Urban Water Plan – strives to integrate flood risk mitigation, engineering, spatial planning, urban design, environmental goals, community amenity and economic development. While such integration poses formidable challenges, it provides incredible opportunities: for innovation, better return-on-investment, enhanced economic growth, improved ecosystems, beautification, and development of more resilient urban and rural environments.