American Journal of Climate Change, 2012, 1, 181-193 Published Online December 2012 (
Increasing the Adaptive Capacity in Unembanked
Neighborhoods? An Exploration into Stakeholder Support
for Adaptive Measures in Rotterdam, The Netherlands*
Anita Kokx, Tejo Spit
Department of Human Geography and Planning, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Received October 11, 2012; revised November 12, 2012; accepted November 19, 2012
Cities in deltas are vulnerable to climate change, especially their unembanked neighborhoods that are not protected by
dikes. Rising sea levels and extreme water levels in the rivers can lead to the flooding of these urban areas. The Nether-
lands has a long history in water management. However, building dikes and the elevation of land are traditionally
treated as rather stand-alone measures. Attention is rarely paid to the su rrounding area, let alone to the complex context
of cities and certainly not to disadvan taged neighborhoods. Yet, inner-city area redevelopment may provide opportuni-
ties to integrate flood management in these planning processes. In order to investigate the support of stakeholders for
risk-reducing adaptive measures and more resilient measures, we did research in an unembanked inner-city area in the
city of Rotterdam (The Netherlands), in which we conducted in-depth interviews with the central stakeholders. The
main conclusion is that the most important barriers for integrating climate adaptation measures into that neighborhood
are the fragmentation of wa ter-safety policy (e.g. elevation of rebuilding locations) and the hierarchical governance ar-
rangement in water management. This type of fragmentation led on its turn to fragmentation with other po licy goals for
the neighborhood. It also led to fragmentation between different areas in the same neighborhood that received political
attention and those that are excluded from water-safety policy. This questions the approach in terms of social justice.
An important side effect is that this governance arrangement also restricted innovation towards climate adaptation.
Therefore, integrating water-safety policies in urban planning (in its capacity as a more integrative and comprehensive
spatial approach ) should be considered th e best option to increase the adap tive capacity in delta cities. Not on ly can the
negative effects in terms of policy fragmentation be dealt with effectively, but also spatial fragmentation can be tackled.
Keywords: Adaptive Capacity; Inner-City Area Development; Unembanked Neighborhoods; Rotterdam;
The Netherlands
1. Introduction
Cities in deltas are vulnerable to climate change. Dutch
cities, as well as other cities in delta areas all over the
world, are particularly vulnerable to flooding [1]. Rising sea
levels and increasing rivers discharges can cause flood
hazards from two directions: from the sea as well as from
the rivers. Unembanked neighborhoods in delta cities are
not protected by dikes. Therefore, they can become in-
creasingly vulnerable to flooding in the future [2], while
population growth and economic growth can increase
flood damage and social disruption.
Climate adaptation is directed to reduce vulnerability
to the impact of climate change [3]. Adaptive capacity is
the capacity of a society to adapt and adjust to the uncer-
tain effects of climate change. It depends on geographical
location, knowledge, and institutional, political, financ ial
and social factors [4]. How the adaptive capacity with
respect to flooding can be increased in unembanked in-
ner-city neighborhoods is the central focus of this paper.
Water management is the traditional instrument to pre-
vent flooding, at least in The Netherlands. The country
has a long history in water management. However, water
management (hydraulic engineering) was less and less
integrated with other policy fields, such as with urban
planning, and did not pay much attention to the surrounding
area [5], let alone to the complex context in cities and
certainly not to disadvantaged neighborhoods.
On the other hand, waterfront developments on former
(unembanked) docklands and the urban restructuring of
disadvantaged neighborhoods are now considered to be
important for improving the image, economic prosperity
and housing in Western delta cities [6,7]. Furthermore,
*This research project has been carried out within the framework of the
Dutch National Research Pr ogram Knowledge for Climate
( This research program is co-financed
the Ministr
of Infrastructure and the E nv ironment.
opyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
the concept of resilient cities has come to the fore, em-
phasizing the functioning of the city as a social-ecologi-
cal system (see for an overview e.g. [8]). Along with
environmental resilience, such as with respect to climate
change, social resilience would also be required to cope
with external stresses and disturbances caused by social,
economic, political and environmental change [9].
Therefore, integrating climate adaptation in spatial ur-
ban planning would be the new urban challenge (see e.g.
[6,10-12]), because urban planning exercises a more long-
term perspective with respect to social-economic and en-
vironmental developments, which equals the long-term
horizon in climate change.
Yet, inner-city area redevelopment may provide op-
portunities to integrate flood management in these plan-
ning processes. In doing so, the adaptive capacity to cope
with the effects of climate change might increase. There-
fore, it is important to investigate the stakeholders’ per-
ceived barriers to and opportunities for integrating cli-
mate adaption in inner-city area development, so that
lessons can be learned for other urban areas. The aim of
this paper is to shed some light on this. We used the Fei-
jenoord-Noord neighborhood in the city of Rotterdam
(The Netherlands) as our case study to elicit th e informa-
tion. This type of neighborhood can be found all over the
world in delta areas, ranging from Bangkok to New Or-
leans and we presume that the Dutch experiences can
easily be translated into their context. The central re-
search question to address is: W hich factors contribute to
or constrain support for acceptation and implementation
of effective adaptation measures in Feijenoord-Noord by
different types of actors, and what lessons can be learned
for other ur ban de vel o pment processes ?
In order to investigate the support of stakeholders for
risk-reducing adaptive measures and more resilient meas-
ures (see below), we conducted in-depth interviews with
the central stakeholders. We interviewed public officials
of the municipality of Rotterda m and the Feijenoord Bor-
ough, managers of real-estate development companies, a
housing association, a large company, and active resi-
dents in the neighborhood. Each interview was recorded
and transcribed in full.
We used network-governance theory and the theory of
governance of climate adaptation as our theoretical f ra me-
work. These are discussed in the next section. This offers
assumptions on the critical factors that would increase
the adaptive capacity in cities. In Section 3 we give in-
formation about the urban restructuring neighborhood
Feijenoord-Noord in the city of Rotterdam and Dutch
water-safety policies. Because actor satisfaction with the
policies is related to actor satisfaction with the policy
process [13,14], we investigated both aspects of climate
adaptation governance. In Section 4 we report our find-
ings about stakeholder satisfaction with the process and
governance arrangement. We investigate stakeholder sup-
port for climate adaptation measures with respect to wa-
ter-safety in Section 5. We conclude this paper with our
major findings in Section 6. These will contribute to the
broader international debate about effective climate adap-
tation governance.
2. Urban Governance and the Governance of
Climate Adaptation
Without doubt, a successful response to climate change
in cities, or in other word s adaptive capacity, would need
cooperation between a broad range of actors: urban go-
vernance. Urban governance can be defined as “the pro-
cess of steering and coordinating urban policies between
the public, private, and voluntary sectors to achieve col-
lectively-agreed goals” [15]. According to various au-
thors (see e.g. [16,17]) stand-alone or sectoral solutions
are insufficient for effective climate adaptation because
climate change influences many social fields and effec-
tive climate adaptation also depends on it to increase the
adaptive capacity. Government, the market, social net-
works and citizens’ social capital would be equally im-
portant to increase this capacity [18].
Integrated policies are also important for the sustain-
able development of society an d of European cities, such
as in disadvantaged neighborhoods [19]. However, poli-
cies for complex problems are often made in different
policy networks (arenas) simultaneously. This could lead
to fragmented policies, such as for urban restructuring
neighborhoods [7]. One of the most important barriers to
climate adaptation in Western cities is policy fragmenta-
tion due to a sectoral focus on climate adaptation in local
government [20,21]. Instead of the narrow focus on regu-
lation in water management, strategic integral spatial
planning can fulfill an important role in policy integra-
tion [22], because of its ambition to integrate all types of
policy with spatial effects. However, up to now climate
adaptation is not structurally embedded in Dutch urban
planning [23]. Therefore, this would be a big challenge,
for example in inner-city area development.
Furthermore, stakeholder support for climate adapta-
tion is extremely important in the implementation of
(new) climate adaptation policies. This will increase the
legitimacy of the policies (equity and acceptance) [24-
26]. Acceptance is the individual evaluation of a policy
process and the content of the p olicy, while sup po rt is the
aggregate of acceptance [14]. Therefore, we measured
the support through a multi-actor evaluation of the pro-
cess and policies [27]. In addition, it would be easier to
gain support for flexible cli mate adaptation measures that
can be adapted latter, than for measures that are ire-
versible [28]. Stakeholder support can also prevent poli-
cymakers choosing climate adaptation options that can-
not be implemented reasonably by stakeholders [24].
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A. KOKX, T. SPIT 183
2.1. Adaptive Governance
Moreover, in governance processes resources (money,
knowledge, information) can be shared between stake-
holders [29]. This might also increase the adaptive capa-
city [17,30,31]. Interactive iterativ e processes might lead
to a shared vision on the policy problem and the best
policy solution [2 9]. This might also lead to policy inno -
vation [13], such as for climate adaptation [26,32,33]:
adaptive governance. This implies that the policies should
be flexible, so that new insights and circumstances can
be taken into account and new actors can be involved
[34]. Therefore, climate adaptation decision making must
also be a flexible and dynamic process, in order to take
uncertain climate change into account and to increase the
adaptive capacity effectively [17,35-39].
However, Dutch urban restructuring practice—its in-
flexibility, reflected in risk-avoiding behavior—is para-
mount. It restricts policy innovation [7]. This can also be
the case in our case study. Also, a lack of a sense of ur-
gency to adapt to climate change can affect the adaptive
capacity negatively, owing to a lack of social support
[40] and lack of political will [41]. However, policy en-
trepreneurs can generate policy change, especially by
using “windows of opportunity” and their professional
networks effectively [42,43], such as for climate adapta-
tion [44] .
Klijn and Koppenjan [45, p. 19] define policy net wor ks
in public governance as “a (more or less) stable pattern
of social relations between interdependent actors, which
take shape around policy problems and/or policy pro-
grammes.” Adaptive policy networks are sensitive and
adaptive to their (policy) environment and can generate
policy change. However, policy networks that are very
closed are more or less insensitive to the multiple con-
texts around them and are not op en to policy change [34].
We might expect an adaptive policy network in our
case study, because this would deliver integrated policies
(including water safety), and a sustainable joint-working
capacity by sharing responsibilities and resources b et wee n
local government, real-estate development companies,
the housing associations and residents.
2.2. The Governance Arrangement
The promises of normative network theory (inclusion,
better policies and easier implementation by sharing re-
sources: [29]) are not always fulfilled in practice, owing
to conflicting pressures from networked, hierarchical and
market forms of governance [7,46]. The institutional de-
sign or governance arrangement (the inclusion/exclusion
of actors; their degree of influence and the roles and
tasks the actors have to fulfill) structures the cooperation
process [47]. Therefore, the governance arrangement is
extremely important for the actors’ satisfaction with the
policy process and the policy content. The more they are
satisfied with the process, the more they are satisfied
with the policy content [13,14]. However, diverging per-
ceptions or different frames of reference (ambiguity: [4 8])
regarding the roles and tasks between the public and pri-
vate domains and the content of the policies can impair
effective cooperation. Consequently, consensus among
stakeholders about climate adaptation is not self-evident,
owing to diverse values, beliefs, understandings, norms,
policy cultures and so on [11].
Traditional hierarchical steering, for example, can hin-
der horizontal cooperation, because insufficient attention
can be paid to the specific local context and actors’ in-
terests [7,46,49]. In sharp contrast to hierarchical uni-
form regulation, climate adaptation should be a very con-
text-specific process, with specific context-dependent cli-
mate adaptation options [16,36]. Furthermore, under neo-
liberalism, government can transfer the public costs of
the policies to the market and their citizens. This can lead
to boundary disputes between the public and private do-
mains [50]. Consequently, disagreements about responsi-
bilities decrease the capacity for cooperation in urban
restructuring [7]. This can also be the case in our case
study with respect to climate adaptation.
In addition, involving the community in policy forma-
tion might develop social capital and community cohe-
sion, improve service delivery and meet local needs [51],
such as in climate adaptation [52]. However, in practice
residents often have a marginal role in strategic decision
making for their neighborhood [7,51] and in climate ad ap -
tation policies [21]. Therefore, the policies are often di-
rected to meet the particular interests of the organizations
involved, and not those of the residents [53]. Further-
more, the manner in which climate adaptation is imple-
mented directly questions the social justice in how the
risks are divided in communities [18].
To summarize, the general barriers to integrating cli-
mate adaptation in urban planning can be found in such
factors as policy fragmentation, the lack of a sense of
urgency, hierarchical steering, different frames of refer-
ence and the exclusion of residents.
2.3. Barriers for Climate Adaptation in Cities
In addition to these more general barriers, climate adap-
tation in cities is not easy to ach ieve. For example, exist-
ing spatial functions cannot be easily restricted or dis-
placed [30]. Fragmented ownership and management of
land and housing can also restrict opportunities for adap-
tation [54]. In addition, many adaptation measures re-
quire more land in public space or a less compact built
environment [55]. Climate adaptation in cities can also
be very expensive. Therefore climate adaptation can of-
ten be implemented over a long time horizon, because
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
buildings and infrastructure have a very long lifetime [ 5 6 ].
Moreover, the effects of climate change differ between
neighborhoods and depend, for example, on the density
of the built environment, the amount of green and water
storage, and the quality of the existing sewer system.
Furthermore, economic values (profit, employment) of-
ten have more weight than softer values, such as the qua-
lity of the living environment in urban neighborhoods
and benefits for the long term. This makes it extremely
difficult to combine long-term goals, such as climate-
proof neighbo rhoods, with short -t erm goals [57].
All these barriers reveal that the opportunity to adapt
to climate change is highly context specific, because it
depends on the climatic, environmental, social and po-
litical conditions in a specific location [17]. However, ac-
cording to Adger and colleagues [11] most perceived li-
mits to adaptation are social constructions (e.g. ethics,
knowledge, attitudes to risk, policy culture). These so-
cially constructed limits may also be mutable. In particu-
lar, urban governance and planning practices can mean-
ingfully challenge the perceived technical, social and
institutional barriers of adaptation among stakeholders by
reframing perceptions (see e.g. [12,58]), in order to ach-
ieve climate-proof urban areas.
2.4. Strategies for Climate Adaptation in Urban
A strategy to achieve the support of various interdepen-
dent actors is joint image-building by creating a common
ground that enables the mutual adjustment of strategies
and joint action (see [58]). Furthering goal intertwine-
ment is one of the strategies to achieve this joint action.
The aim of goal intertwinement is that solutions are de-
veloped and selected that satisfy all actors involved, be-
cause all will perceive an improvement with respect to
the existing or expected situation.
The essence of goal intertwinement is the acceptance
of differences. This can accommodate diverging or con-
flicting objectives. Intertwinement might bind actors to-
gether and create opportunities to sh are cost. Th rough th e
linking of different policy networks and goals, new op-
portunities can emerge. Goal intertwinement can take p la ce
along various lines [58]. For example, through an inte-
grated design the scope of a problem definition (e.g. in-
tegrated area development instead of only climate change)
can be enlarged. Scope enlargement may give more room
for goal intertwinement and sharing of resources, be-
cause more actors are involved. Climate-proof compo-
nents in public space also create much public and private
value or benefit (see e.g. [59,60]).
Furthermore, climate adaptation measures can easily
be attached to maintenance or replacement investments.
Thus, goal intertwinement (as a window of opportunity)
is a cost-effective strategy to link climate adaptation to
other policy aims and investment agendas. In addition,
no-regret measures can prevent no climate adaptation
taking place at all. Willows and Connell [61, p. 66] de-
fine no-regret options as options (or measures) that can
be justified under all plausible future climate change sce-
narios, including the absence of human-induced climate
change. Thus, a no-regret adaptation strategy limits the
impact of climate change and delivers benefits in eco-
nomic, social or environmental terms even in absence of
climate change.
In the research, we investigated stakeholders’ percep-
tions about the effective use of these strategies in our
case study.
2.5. Climate Adaptation Measures for
Unembanked Neighborhoods
To adapt to climate change in unembanked urban areas,
there are two broad strategies: first, by increasing the re-
sistance against flooding, such as by elevating the land—
this fits within the traditional top-down paradigm in Du-
tch water management, based on models to reduce un-
certainty, the calculation of statistical risks, and taking
preventiv e measures; second, by in creasing the resilience
so that the consequences of flooding are restricted and
the areas can recover quickly—this is a more bottom-up
approach, wherein uncertainty about the effects of cli-
mate change is accepted and learning from the past is
emphasized (adaptive management) [62].
There are several measures that can increase this resi-
lience, such as increasing the self-reliance of residents
through good communication; evacuation routes; the cr ea-
tion of refuge areas; construction measures that restrict
the damage to buildings, electricity and communication
networks; adaptive roads, so that water can be trans-
ported quickly towards outsi de the area; insurances against
flooding; and a non-hierarchical management structure
with short communication lines (flexibility) [62-64].
Thus, this approach is based on recovery and flood resi-
lience measures. System robustness (e.g. an unbanked
area as a flood risk system) is featured by both response
and recovery, whereas vulnerability is the flip side of
system robustness [35].
A variety of preventive and resilience measures can in-
crease the adaptive capacity of an area, because it can
better cope with the uncertainty of climate change [39].
We investigated the stakeholder support for both risk-
reducing and resilient adaptive measures (see Section 5).
To summarize, the critical success factors for the go-
vernance of climate adaptation are adaptive policy net-
works, integrative policies, learning and experimentatio n,
flexibility, stakeholder support, goal intertwinement, and
the effective use of windows of opportunity.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
A. KOKX, T. SPIT 185
3. Feijenoord-Noord in the City of
Rotterdam and Water-Safety Policies
3.1. The Case Study
The city of Rotterdam is located at the edge of the south-
west delta area of The Netherlands, with the North Sea to
the west. The Nieuwe Maas River separates the city into
a northern and southern part (see Figure 1).
Until the nineteenth century, the city of Rotterdam was
built on the north bank of the river, and was mainly pro-
tected by dikes. A new deep-water channel, the “Nieuwe
Waterweg”, improved access to the port of Rotterdam,
and exaggerated urban development on the south bank
during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including
harbors, infrastructure and housing. Part of these deve-
lopments took place in unembanked areas, directly adja-
cent to the river [2], such as in our case study of the Fei-
jenoord-Noord neighborhood
In this neighborhood, urban restructuring of the hous-
ing stock (renovation/demolition/new housing) took place
Figure 1. The location of Feijenoord-Noord in Rotterdam,
The Netherlands.
during the 1970s, and some companies have been dis-
placed. Some 7300 people live in the Feijenoord neigh-
borhood, and it accommodates many young people (33%
<20 years). The ethnic minority population is relatively
large. Residents’ income is relatively low compared with
the city and the national averages. Poverty is one of the
main problems in the area, as well as social safety and
criminality [65].
In the Masterplan for the area, “Kop van Feijenoord”
[65], one of the most important aims is improving the
living environment for the current residents, as well as
creating new residential milieus for new residents (mid-
dle- and upper-income groups). Also, public space will
be improved with quays, parks and squares.
3.2. Water-Safety Policies
Dutch water-safety policy is based on so-called more-
layer safety, namely prevention as primary pillar; sus-
tainable spatial planning (pro-action); disaster manage-
ment (response). Local government is responsible for
water safety in Dutch umembanked areas. In addition,
end users are responsible for flood resilience measures
and the risk of floodwater damage in these areas [66,67].
To prevent flooding from the sea, the Measlandt Storm
Surge Barrier has been built in the north of the Nieuwe
Maas. It closes when the sea level is expected to rise by
more than +3 meters Normaal Amsterdams Peil [NAP].
A NAP of 0 is the average sea level of the North Sea.
Over the course of time, the south bank of the Fei-
jenoord-No ord area has been elevated from +2.5 NAP to
+3.90 NAP. The Noordereiland, the isle in the river, is
the lowest part of the area (+2.25 NAP). Current vulner-
ability for frequent flooding is relative low, but it is vul-
nerable to extreme situations. In the future, climate change
may increase this vulnerability by raising sea levels and
increasing rivers discharges. Further urbanization also
increases this vulnerability [2,64,68]. The Masterplan
“Kop van Feijenoord” advises the elevation of new bu ild-
ings blocks towards +4.10 NAP [65]. The masterplan’s
advice will be followed unless a risk analysis says other-
wise [68].
4. Perceptions about the
Governance Arrangement
In the interviews stakeholders are asked about their per-
ceptions regarding the division of responsibilities be-
tween government and the market with respect to the
water safety in the area.
All stakeholders perceive a shared responsibility with
respect to the inner-city area development and the im-
plementation of climate adaptive measures. However, t h er e
is no total financial strategy to implement the masterplan,
owing to a negative land-exploitation budget. Therefore,
the scope of area development is reduced (divided into
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
sub-plans). This implies that the costs cannot be shared
within the whole area development but must be negoti-
ated repeatedly, whereas scope enlargement gives better
opportunities for sharing costs [58].
With respect to water-safety policies, the stakeholders
stress that local government sets the standards, and real-
estate developers are obliged to adhere to this standard.
This implies that local government exercises its respon-
sibility through traditional hierarchical steering by regu-
lation, namely by setting standards with respect to the
ground level for rebuilding locations. However, real-
estate developers and the housing association involved
are dissatisfied with this top-down steering, because they
have to pay all the costs of adaptation, as this real-estate
developer illustrates:
Owing to the financial crisis, the cheapest solution for
the municipality at this moment is to elevate the ground
level towards 4 meters. They put the financial burden
onto the developer.
Thus, in his opinion local gover nment passes the costs
onto the development companies (see also [50]). Also,
the hierarchical steering does not give any incentive to
develop alternative adaptive measures. A respondent fr om
a housing association ex presses this as follows:
We keep it in mind (water safety), but not otherwise
than is prescribed by the municipality, and that is the
standard ground level.
According to a public official, more freedom and re-
sponsibility for real-estate developers would lead to more
innovative solutions than local government would offer.
Also, a real-estate developer emphasizes the importance
of being innovativ e. In his opinion, adap tive constru ction
can be used as a marketing instrument, and innovation
would also be important for the survival of the company:
We can use it as marketing, because we show that we
are a progressive company: that we want to go further
than just stacking bricks. Ultimately, we have to innov-
ate. Otherwise, we stand still and go backwards.
However, this real-estate developer also emphasizes
that the traditional measure of elevating the land restricts
the company in being innovative. Thus, whereas the mar-
ket has a self-steering capacity to be innovative, hierar-
chical steering with only one adaptive instrument (eleva-
tion of the land in rebuilding locations) restricts innova-
tion in climate adaptation. An explanation for this one-
sidedness and inflexibility can be found in the path-de-
pendency of former water-safety policies, such as a real-
estate developer stresses:
I notice that Feijenoord is no t a very experimental area
for the municipality. Many things cause this. The plan
just runs for a long time. A few years ago this was of no
Recently, local government has set the first steps in
adaptive management [26,28] (bringing stakeholders to-
gether, information and communication). Public profes-
sionals and representatives of the market are brought to-
gether in exp ert meetings. This illustrates the d ynamic in
these processes [36]. The professionals interviewed are
satisfied with these meetings. However, more steps shou ld
be made:
This process is then started. I also participated in sort
of strategy session to talk about this: “If we do it, how we
do it?” That’s all passed in review, and I then also said:
“It’s fine to talk about it, but when will something hap-
pen?” We need each other, so in that sense it is good to
recognize solutions and to respect each other’s interests.
Thus, it is important to take each other’s interests into
account (equity: [24]).
Furthermore, a public official stresses that cooperation
with market parties would offer local government more
substantive and strateg ic certainty about the i mplementa-
tion of the policies (see also [58]):
If you involve these professionals then you know that
they really want to do this. Or if government prescribes
some (unacceptable) requirements, are we then going to
stop all developments? Especially nowadays, it is impor-
tant to take this in to account.
However, until now the residents of Feijenoord-Noord
have been excluded from these meetings, while they are
the target group [53] of water-safety policies for their
To summarize, local government and the market are
mutually dependent and perceive a shared responsibility
for climate adaptation. However, market parties are dis-
satisfied with the hierarchical steering in this neo-liberal
governance arrangement, because only they pay the costs
of water safety in the neighborhood. From a market per-
spective (maximize profit through reduction of costs and
innovation), their opinion is understandable. However,
the path-dependency of local government in the former
hierarchical steering of water management influences the
choices that have been made until now. From a tradi-
tional government perspective (legal certainty and equal-
ity of rights), this steering is also understandable. This
clearly illustrates the ambiguity in perceptions about the
division of responsibilities between government and the
market [48].
Besides, this governance arrangement and the use of
only one steering instrument restrict innovation in cli-
mate adaptation, because experimentation and learning
have no chance to come to the fore. This can restrict
adaptive capacity in the future [26,32,33]. Owing to the
exclusion of residents in the interactive meeting s, it is not
clear which role they can fulfill to increase the adaptive
5. Stakeholder Support for Adaptive
Measures to Improve Water Safety
Also, stakeholder support for the policy content is ex-
tremely important to increase the legitimacy and imple-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
A. KOKX, T. SPIT 187
mentation of policies [24,25]. Furthermore, a variety of
preventiv e and resilience measures in creases the adap tive
capacity, because it can better cope with the uncertainty
of climate change [39]. In this Section we investigate
stakeholder support for various adaptive measures, based
on the stakeholders’ most mentioned measures during the
first expert meeting. But first, we explore the sense of ur-
gency and perceived risks in this case study, because
these can influence perceptions about the necessity to
take adaptive measures [41].
5.1. Urgency and Risks
All stakeholders perceive a greater sense of urgency for
the Noordereiland (the island in the Nieuwe Maas River)
than for the area on the south bank, because the quays of
the Noordere iland are already prone to flooding:
You need a provision for the Noordereiland, because
now the parking lots are sometimes flooded, but in 10
years it will come to the houses.
According to the stakeholders, the historic value of the
buildings makes the island extra vulnerable to climate
change. Besides, no urban restructuring of the dwellings
is foreseen. This implies that adaptive measures can be
taken mainly in public spaces. In strong contrast to the
Noordereiland, for the area on the south bank stake-
holders refer to the low and unclear probability of flood-
ing in relation to the equity of the costs of adaptation.
This affects the willingness to invest, as a respondent
from a large company illustrates:
When the danger is very realistic, of course then there
will be money for it. But for this type of scenario it is
often difficult to be really able to demonstrate that it will
happen in three years… We have the willingness to in-
vest, but not when it is quite vague. Anyway, this is it at
this moment.
Furthermore, various flooding scenarios lead to dif-
ferent risk models. According to the stakeholders, this
also restricts a good assessment, and these models cannot
guarantee water safety. A strong focus by government on
risk management could even lead to a false sense of
safety, as a public official stresses:
I think we go too far in the avoidance of all risks. In
my view we create a false sense of safety by thinking we
arrange this, we arrange that, so now we run no risk . But
it does not work it this way!
This implies also that resilient adaptive measures
would be needed in the event of an emergency [39].
To summarize, stakeholders perceive a greater sense
of urgency for the Noordereiland than for the area on the
south bank of the river. Important factors in the (un)will-
ingness to invest are experiences with current flooding
[41]; uncertainty about the exact risks of flooding; the
equity of the costs in relation [24] to a vague acceptable
risk; and the restrictions of statistical mode ls.
5.2. The Elevation of Land (Preventive Measure)
Real-estate developers mention that, in comparison to an-
other unembanked inner-city area development in Rot-
terdam, the cost of elevation of land is not the most im-
portant barrier here. This indicates that the financial ac-
ceptance of this measure is very context dependent. Be-
sides, the housing asso ciation mentions that this adaptive
measure requires no further adaptive measures in the
construction of new dwellings, and is therefore from a
technical and financial point of view relatively easy to
However, all stakeholders are of the opinion that this
measure causes very negative effects on spatial quality
owing to different ground levels between the rebuilding
locations and the surrounding areas, which causes pro-
blems with urban design. Besides, further uncertain cli-
mate change is not taken into account, as a real-estate
developer stresses:
A disadvantage of a floor level of 4 meters is if sud-
denly in about 40 years it turns out that 4 meters is no
longer safe… That is pretty difficult, you’re no longer
safe and can do nothing anymore.
In addition, all stakeholders mention that this measure
to increase water safety in the neighborhood is not an
integral solution, because only rebuilding locations will
be evaluated. Thus, this leads to fragmentation between
different areas in the same neighborhood: those that re-
ceive political attention and those that are excluded fro m
water-safety policy. For the current residents, this would
not be an acceptable solution:
Of course, that is not desirable. Basically, you want
everyone to have dry feet. Ideally, you want everyone to
be safe and nobody to be flooded.
Furthermore, according to the housing association, it
can decrease the support for more expensive new hous-
ing in the neighbor hood. In its turn, this can affect social
cohesion between residents in the new dwellings and
those in the existing hou sing stock owing to a “we versu s
they” way of thinking (see e.g. [69]), whereas one of the
main objectives of the area development is the improve-
ment of the quality of the liv ing environment for the cur-
rent residents [65]. A public official summarizes stake-
holder dissatisfaction in the following way:
By both the Urban Design Department (municipality)
and the developing parties this is perceived as not so
good option for spatial quality. Both, we don’t think
much of it. In addition, we find it actually rather divisiv e
that you organize it properly for the new residents and
not for the current residents. Elevation of the land in ex-
isting urban areas is really especially difficult, because
the quality is not improved for the current residents.
However, despite all these disadvantages, until now
real-estate developers have chosen this adaptive measure
for a rebuilding location, in order to minimize financial,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
technical and market risks.
To summarize, this adaptive measure reduces financial
and construction risks, whereas support from a physical
and social point of view is very restricted because it leads
to poorer spatial quality, a spatial division in water saf ety,
and to possible negative effects on social cohesion. T her e-
fore, it is not an integral [16,17] but a sectoral approach,
which only emphasizes the water safety of rebuilding
loc atio ns. There is no goal intertwinement [58] with oth er
policy aims. Furthermore, it is an inflexible measure with
respect to further uncertain climate change, while many
authors stress the importance of flexibility [17,36-39,62].
5.3. Quay, Dike and Retaining Wall
(Preventive Measures)
Stakeholders perceive the elevation of the current quay
as an expensive measure for the Noordereiland, whereas
a retaining wall on the quay, combined with a bench,
would be a better option here because it would also con-
tribute to spatial quality. On the south bank of the area,
elevation of the quay is only acceptable when is it com-
bined with a boulevard (waterfront) so that it also con-
tributes to the improvement of the spatial quality of the
area, which is one of the aims of this inner-city area de-
velopment [65]. Thus, goal intertwinement [58] contri-
butes to the support for climate adaptive measures. In
contrast to the elevation of the land just of the rebuilding
locations, it would contribute to the water safety of the
whole neighborhood. It also does not require adaptive
measures in the existing housing stock:
Then you are at once rid of the problem and it contri-
butes to the quality of the area. It has fewer consequences
for the individual dwellings, because this solution is
more an integral solution, which also protects the exist-
ing housin g sto ck.
Furthermore, there is no support for the construction of
a dike around the area, because it requires too much
space [55] and costs too much money since many dwell-
ings would have to be demol i shed .
5.4. Dry-Proof Construction
(Preventive Measure)
In dry-proof buildings the extern al walls are used to hold
back the floodwater (water resistant). According to the
stakeholders, dry-proof dwellings require many technical
construction measures, whereas there is currently no
Dutch construction regulation for this type of buildings.
Besides, other adaptive measures in public space would
be also required in this case study (temporary retaining
walls). Furthermore, the financial feasibility of dry-pro of
construction is related to the potential flood depth in
flood-prone areas. This adaptive measure would be too
expensive in this case study:
Then, the costs are so terribly high, because you must
make many arrangements, like a kind of shell all the way
around, and all streets must be prepared to be closed for
the potential even t of flooding .
However, there would be fewer financial disadvan-
tages for apartment blocks. Thus, support depends also of
the housing type. According to one real-estate developer,
the feasibility of dry-proof construction is also restricted
by former decisions on the elevation of the land, whereas
in his opinion it should be a condition for urban design
from the start.
To su mma riz e, except in the case of apartments b lo ck s,
there is not much support for dry-proof construction.
Factors that contribute to this lack of support are the
costs in relation to th e potential high depth of flooding in
this case study, the lack of specific construction regula-
tion, and former decisions about climate adaptation that
block innovation in the case of for dry-proof construc-
5.5. Wet-Proof Construction (Resilient Measure)
Wet-proof construction implies that the shield and mate-
rials inside the building are water resistant, so floodwater
damage can be quickly restored. After cleaning, it can
quickly be put into use again. However, according to the
real-estate developers, because of the potential high
depth of floodwater in the area many measur es should be
taken in the dwellings. They also question the social ac-
ceptance of much floodwater in the dwellings:
What, you must accept a meter of flooding water in the
dwelling? What do you have to do to meet all those re-
quirements? Saying that with wet-proof construction it
may be wet, and the water may b e standing a meter deep
in your living roo m. That seems to us not appropriate for
a residential function. You can’t do that to people!
Therefore, there is not much stakeholder support for
this measure in the case study. According to a real-estate
developer, adapting the occupancy of the dwelling by
displacing the residential function to a higher floor would
be a good solution from a technical and urban design
point of view. However, the housing association does not
accept this for the existing housing stock, because it
leads to vacancy and consequently has negative effects
on the housing exploitation budget. They also mention,
just as residents do, that it has negative effects on livabi-
lity (social safety), because social control on the streets
will disappear. According to the housing association,
displacement to a higher floor level in new dwellings is
also more expensive than traditional construction, be-
cause it requires extra construction measures. Further-
more, it leads to spatial functional restrictions, whereas
residents stress that many (older and immobile) residents
prefer to live on the ground floor with a garden.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
A. KOKX, T. SPIT 189
To summarize, just as with dry-proof constru ction, the
feasibility of wet-proof buildings depends on the poten-
tial flood depth in the area, the required construction
measures, the social consequences and the housing type.
For apartment blocks, there is more support. There is no
support for displacement of the residential function to a
higher floor level in the existing housing stock, because
of its negative effects on the housing exploitation budget
and on the livability in the area, owing to the disappear-
ance of social control.
5.6. Small Preventive Spatial and
Construction Measures
Adaptive measures can also contribute to water safety in
public space, for example by redesigning the street, and
squares and parks for extra water storage (resilient meas-
ures). A public official stresses that adaptive measures in
public space can be easily linked with other measures in
public space and investments:
If the entire street must be opened for a new sewer,
then make the sewer pipes slightly larger, so more water
can be discharged. Pay attention to the design of the
green area, or to the sidewalks or roads, so not all the
water flows into the sewer drains, but the rain can reach
the groundwater and so can flow away more slowly. Of
course, you can easily take that kind of measures any-
where. I think it does not cost extra money.
Thus, these windows of opportunity [42] are an effi-
cient manner of linking climate adaptation with other
policy aims in the neighborhood by seeking goal inter-
twinement [58]. Over and above that, they are also
no-regret measures, because they always contribute to
other aims rather than only to water safety [61]. Accord-
ing to the stakeholders, the use of traditional water-re-
sistant floodwalls (resilient measure) that can be placed
before windows and doors in the event of high water also
contributes to water safety. In the opin ion of the housing
association, this would be a better measure than eleva-
I think it is better to make water-resistant floodwalls
before the doors or a door with two hatches. That seems
to me better than elevating the whole dwelling.
According to the stakeholders, high ventilation regis-
ters (preventive measure) for the protection of vulnerable
elements in public space, for example in electricity trans-
former stations, also contribute to water safety and pre-
vent social disrupt io n.
To summarize, in public space and buildings it is easi-
er to gain support for small flexible measures than for
measures that are irreversible [28], such as the elevation
of land. Over and above that, climate adaptation can be
implemented step by step in integrated area development
by linking it to other investments [24].
5.7. Risk Communication, Evacuation Routes,
and Elevation of Infrastructure
(Resilience and Preventive Measures)
Risk communication (resilience measure) increases the
self-reliance of residents [39]. However, until now local
government and the housing association did not pay any
attention to informing residents about the risks of flood-
ing and the me asures they cou ld take. Also, the res idents
interviewed have no id ea in which direction they have to
flee in the event of an emergency.
According to public officials and the housing associa-
tion, residents have no sense of urgency with respect to
water safety, owing to their many daily personal con-
cerns. Most likely, this implies a low self-reliance capa-
city among the current residents, which makes them extra
vulnerable. This also emphasizes the importance of good
risk communication. However, none of the stakeholders
links the policy aim of increasing the (economic) self-
reliance capacity of residents in the area with increasing
their self-reliance capacity to climate change. Thus, goal
intertwinement with social policy aims has not taken
place. Besides, no link has been made with increasing the
social capital (social networks and social support) to in-
crease the adaptive capacity in the event of an emergency
[18,70]. However, according an older resident with ex-
periences of the flood disaster in the area in 1953, the
importance of social capital comes prominently to the
fore, namely in giving shelter to those whose dwellings
were flooded:
In that little house we have been together with 14 other
people, because their house was wet. My parents said:
“Come upstairs, we put some mattresses on the floor.”
Stakeholders underline the importance of good risk
communication and evacuation routes, such as on ele-
vated (tram) roads. However, there is much uncertainty
about how good risk communication should be handled,
for example, to which target groups it should be directed
and how they should communicate about statistical
flooding risks. This implies that professional risk com-
munication is necessary to increase the adaptive capacity
of residents.
5.8. Insurance (Resilient Measure) and
Spatial Zoning (Preventive Measure)
Insurance is an adaptive measure to increase recovery
capacity after a flood. Nevertheless, in The Netherlands
insurance against flooding is still not available. Stake-
holders perceive insurance as an interesting option in
relation to the acceptance of risks and the costs of adap-
tation. But, according to a real-estate developer, Dutch
insurance co mpanies should always require adaptive mea s-
ures to prevent flo odwater damage, such as dry-proof and
wet-proof construction:
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
They want to ensure if we design something it is wet-
pro of o r d ry-proof, in which the da mage is accepta ble . S o ,
when we have developed it wet-proof and the floodwater
comes higher, then it is insured . But if we build houses at
the current ground level and we say it can be flooded, the
insurers say: “We don’t insure that.”
This implies that insurance is not a structural adaptive
measure, because other adaptive measures should always
be taken.
Preventing location of vulnerable spatial functions in
the area (kindergartens, schools, nursing homes) by mean s
of zoning plans can prevent flood victims. However,
none of the stakeholders perceive this as a realistic op-
tion, owing to the desirability of these functions for the
livability in the neighborhood.
To summarize, we conclude that support in several
dimensions (financial, spatial, technical, social) of some
adaptive measures (elevation of land, quay, dry-proof
and wet-proof construction) is very context specific. It
depends on the situation of the spatial design, decisions
about the housing stock, and the potential flood depth.
This implies that in another context support could be
rather different. Therefore, there cannot be a blueprint for
climate adaptation (see also: [16,36]), but rather it re-
quires an integral adaptive strategy (costs, (external) ef-
fects), such as is stressed by many of the stakeholders
interviewed, in order to increase broad stakeholder sup-
port (equity and acceptance of the policies: see e.g.
6. Conclusions
The focus of this paper has been on identifying the fac-
tors that contribute or constrain support for acceptation
and implementation of effective adaptation measures in
delta cities. We conducted in-depth interviews with pro-
fessionals from local government, real-estate develop-
ment companies and housing associations, and with ac-
tive residents in the unembanked Feijenoord-Noord neig h -
borhood in the city of Rotterdam. Because actor satisfac-
tion with the policies is related to actor satisfaction with
the process [13,14], we investigated both aspects of the
governance of climate adaptation.
Actors perceive a shared responsibility with respect to
climate adaptation in this unembanked inner-city area
development. Therefore, we may expect an adaptive po-
licy network [34] that integrates climate adaptation meas-
ures with the other policy aims o f this inner-city area de-
velopment. In addition, stakeh olders would be dependent
on one another, and through the exchange of resources
(money, knowledge, information) they might reach their
aims; this also would require a shared vision regarding
both the area development and the most effective climate
adaptation measures [29].
However, in practice we found traditional hierarchical
government steering with respect to water-safety pol-
icies, namely elevation of the land as an instrument to
increase water safety in the neighborhood. An explana-
tion for this hierarchical government steering can be
found in the path-dependency of former Dutch sectoral
water management [22]. Within this hierarchical but also
neo-liberal governance arrangement, government sets the
standards and market parties are responsible for climate
adaptation implementation in the neighborhood. Market
parties are dissatisfied with this division of responsibil-
ity, because only they pay the costs of water safety in the
neighborhood [50]. Besides, this hierarchical steering re-
stricts innovation in climate adaptation , whereas the mar-
ket has a self-steering capacity to be innovative. There-
fore, opportunities to increase the adaptive capacity are
not taken seriously. Furthermore, uncertainty about fu-
ture climate change is not taken into account.
This hierarchical steering also makes cooperation dif-
ficult, because no attention is paid to the specific context
in the area and the actors’ interests. But recently, the mu-
nicipality has taken the first steps in adaptive manage-
ment by bringing stakeholders together in expert meet-
ings and by sharing information and knowledge [26,28].
However, until now residents have been excluded from
these meetings, while water-safety policies are directed
towards their neighborhood. This can decrease the adap-
tive capacity in the neighborho od [21].
With respect to support for climate adaptive measures,
we conclude that the sectoral adaptive measure of eleva-
tion of the land generates important negative effects on
other policy aims for the area, such as improving spatial
quality and the (social) quality o f the living environment.
Furthermore, it leads to a division with respect to water
safety in the neighborh ood, because on ly rebuilding loca-
tions will be elevated. From a social justice perspective,
this approach can be questioned with regard to the divi-
sion of risks [18]: residents in social housing with fewer
resources are excluded from water-safety policies, while
more affluent households in the new dwellings are in-
In sum, there is not much stakeholder support for this
adaptive measure. This also reveals the relation between
dissatisfaction with the process and with the policy
[13,14]. However, until now, market parties’ financial
considerations have been decisive in choosing this adap-
tation measure for a redevelopment location. This could
have been different, with a combination of adaptive
measures and by linking other investments in the area
[58], or in other words by an integral approach in urban
Our research also reveals that the support for specific
adaptation measures (quay, dry-proof and wet-proof
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. AJCC
A. KOKX, T. SPIT 191
buildings) is very context dependent [16,36]. For exam-
ple, it depends on the spatial design in the neighb orhood,
the potential flood depth in the area, and decisions about
the existing housing stock (demolishing or not/renova-
tion or not). Probably, a combination of adaptive meas-
ures could also have increased the feasibility of these
alternatives, with specific disadvantages of an adaptive
measure being compensated by other adaptive measures.
Therefore, stakeholders support the importance of the
development of an integral adaptive strategy for the neigh-
The main conclusion is that the most important barri-
ers for integrating climate adaptation measures into that
neighborhood are policy fragmentation of water-safety
policy (elevation of rebuilding locations) and the hierar-
chical governance arrangement in water management.
This type of fragmentation led on in its turn to fragmen-
tation with other policy go als for the neighborhood. This
certainly does not contribute to a resilient city [9]. It also
led to fragmentation in the same neighborhood between
areas that received political attention and those that were
excluded from the water-safety policy. This divergence
as an effect of policy-making in water safety makes the
approach questionable in terms of social justice. Another
important side effect is that this governance arrangement
also restricts innovation towards climate adaptation.
Therefore, an important lesson learned is that integrat-
ing water-safety policies in urban planning (in its capa-
city as a more integrative and spatial comprehensive ap-
proach (see also: [10-12])) should be considered the best
option to increase the adaptive capacity in delta cities all
over the world, ranging from Bangkok to New Orleans.
Not only can the negative effects in terms of policy
fragmentation be dealt with effectively, but spatial frag-
mentation can al so be tackl ed.
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