Rebuild by Design: New Dutch Solutions for U.S. Water Challenges

‘The San Francisco Bay Area needs to prepare for the consequences of climate change, there is just no excuse.’ – Henk Ovink, said to the audience at the Netherlands Consulate-General in San Francisco.‘Building a resilient region is about more than technology. It is about community collaboration.’

Crissy Field w/12 ft. Sea Level Rise

Crissy Field w/12 ft. Sea Level Rise Credit: Nikolay Lamm

This is how Henk Ovink Sr. Advisor for Secretary Donovan of HUD Hurricane Sandy Task Force, explained his vision of how communities can arm themselves against disasters such as the Sandy superstorm. The crowd gathered for an evening featuring Ovink and his story of how his Rebuild By Design initiative came to be – and why it was listed among CNN’s 10 Best Ideas of 2013.

Hugo von Meijenfeldt addresses MH17

Hugo von Meijenfeldt addresses MH17

The evening began on a somber note, however, as the Netherlands held a national day of mourning. Consul-General Hugo von Meijnfeldt asked for a moment of silence in respect and honor of all the victims of the MH17 crash where 194 Dutch citizens lost their lives. The reality of the situation set a serious tone for the rest of the evening.

The Netherlands has been well known for building effective water management strategies despite an abundance of water and being partly located below sea level. Leveraging the expertise of one of the Netherlands’ best water and spatial planning strategists, Secretary Donovan called on Henk Ovink, then the Netherlands’ Deputy Director General for Spatial Planning and Water Management.

Consulate General of the Netherlands

AT&T Park w/ 12ft. Sea level rise Credit: Nickolay Lamm

What followed could be best described as a unique exploratory collaboration culminating in Rebuild By Design, a design competition initiative that was named one of CNN’s 10 Best Ideas of 2013. The goal of Rebuild by Design is to find the best teams and projects for redesigning areas vulnerable to climate change, to be more resilient.

Drawing on the ‘Dutch Approach’, an emphasis on a holistic, integral approach working with cross-industry expertise, Rebuild By Design has helped build local and cross-continent partnerships with the goal to help design solutions for a resilient New York. With consequences of climate change such as sea level rise a reality in the Western United States too, Ovink urged the San Francisco audience to join him in his mission to roll out Rebuild By Design across the United States. Sandy, Ovink explained, provided the momentum to help make the impact of climate change become more understandable.

As a hurricane and post-tropical cyclone, Sandy was responsible for 117 deaths in the U.S. and more fatalities in surrounding areas.

For those who experienced Sandy, climate change became a bleak reality, said Ovink. He then presented a question to the Bay Area-based audience: why would we wait for a disaster in the Bay Area instead of proactively dealing with it? ‘Sea level rise and droughts will have a big impact on the Bay and in this progressive and intelligent area which is an example for the rest of the world. There is no excuse not to act today.’

Written by  Michiel Feijt, Water Trainee at the Consulate General of the Netherlands, San Francisco
Edits by Anne Donker and Bo-Peter Laanen

July 25th, 2014 by

    Website by