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Rural Solutions for Threats to Urban Areas: The Contest over Calamity Polders

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Climate change and its possible impact on flood risk are high on the agenda of politicians, policy-makers, the public and the private sector in deltaic areas all over the world. In the Netherlands the increasing awareness of these challenges has given rise to a remarkable policy change. The Room for the River policy introduced here in the course of the 1990s meant a shift from a purely infrastructural approach to flood control (dikes) to combinations of spatial and infrastructural measures. At the same time an attempt was made to persuade the population that water could be fun, and the new challenge was to live with water. Yet the desire to hedge against residual risk led to a controversial proposal for emergency flood storage of excess peak discharges in so-called calamity polders. These polders were located in areas with a low-population density to take the pressure off the highly urbanized, economically more important and more densely populated western part of the Netherlands. One of the selected polders was the Ooijpolder, peri-urban backyard of the town of Nijmegen. Spearheaded by well-educated people with an urban background or plugged into urban social and political networks, the Ooijpolder became the centre of protests against the plans for calamity polders. While, in the end, the plans for calamity polders did not materialize, risk differentiation between and even within regions that formerly enjoyed the same protection standard is now becoming the basis of Dutch flood policy. What can we learn from the calamity polder case?
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-12-07

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  • Built Environment is published quarterly in March, June, September and December. With an emphasis on crossing disciplinary boundaries and providing global perspective, each issue focuses on a single subject of contemporary interest to practitioners, academics and students working in a wide range of disciplines. Issues are guest-edited by established international experts who not only commission contributions, but also oversee the peer-reviewing process in collaboration with the Editors.

    Subject areas include: architecture; conservation; economic development; environmental planning; health; housing; regeneration; social issues; spatial planning; sustainability; urban design; and transport. All issues include reviews of recent publications.

    The journal is abstracted in Geo Abstracts, Sage Urban Studies Abstracts, and Journal of Planning Literature, and is indexed in the Avery Index to Architectural Publications.

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