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Floating villages could be next urban development

Increased problems with rising sea levels

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

HOOFDDORP, the Netherlands - Construction company Dura Vermeer has floated a plan to deal with urban development in the face of rising sea and river levels. The firm, based in this town in the middle of the former lake Haarlemmermeer which was drained 150 years ago, also home to Amsterdam International Airport Schiphol, is proposing the development of floating urban subdivisions.

Such new developments could be the answer to the increased dilemma of keeping up with the home building demand in areas subject to being flooded by overflowing rivers or by extreme high tides. The government’s plans to dedicate existing polders as overflow reservoirs in times of flooding, further deminishes the amount of available land for home and commercial building. Some polder dikes as well are slated to be breached basically to allow nature to run its course or with less human management.

Over-population continues to be an issue in the western agglomeration known as Randstad, the area comprized of such cities as Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague and ‘connected’ communities like Haarlem, Leiden, Aalsmeer and Hoofddorp. The urban sprawl of the Randstad also encompasses fragile nature and agricultural districts but encroaches the area popularly known the Green Heart of Holland. The Haarlemmer-meerpolder is but one of a range of districts below the sea level.

Subdivisions on water

In the 1970s, ten percent of all land in the Randstad polders was built on. These days, over thirty percent is taken up by roads and urbanization. The potential for these polders to serve as overflow reservoirs therefore has been significantly jeopardized. On the other hand, demand still increases for new subdivisions and business parks and developers more and more are looking to expand onto previously valuable arable land.

Dura Vermeer which already experiments with floating greenhouses in an area near Rotterdam, proposes that urban developers diversify their designs for sprawl. In part they may want to cater to the desire of new home owners to have ‘water frontage,’ but builders also need to embrace water bodies as ‘new building ground.’

Floating villages in the proposal by Dura Vermeer, should not be limited to ‘homes on floats.’ Such developments could encompass stilt houses as well as homes and amenities built on knolls (in Dutch known as terpen), the artificial buttes which in ages past kept Dutch villagers dry in low-lying areas previously insufficiently protected by diking. Such terpen can be found in Friesland, Groningen and in Overijssel, notably Kamper-eiland (this particular area as well as other districts along the coast of the Zuiderzee only became safe when the Afsluitdijk between North Holland and Friesland was completed).

Runoffs and higher tides

The increased danger of flooding, both from runoffs into swollen rivers and rising sea levels, has become a major concern. In the North Sea, the sea level rises about one centimetre a year, while the soil settles at a rate of one to six centimetres. Climatological changes also cause an increase in precipitation. The viability of further upgrading dikes along the major rivers Rhine, Meuse and now the IJssel has reached its limit, forcing a search for other solutions to deal with a surplus of water.

The concept of floating homes or stilt housing is not new in the Netherlands, although it is they are often associated with tropical areas plagued by torrential rains, such as in Southeast Asia, the Pacific and South America. The idea also has taken hold in Japan, where the new sports stadium in Yokohama was built over an enormous, artificial water reservoir which serves as a sort of floodable basement.

Near Roermond, a Limburg city along the banks of the Meuse River, floating homes have been incorporated in a resort. ‘Marina Oolderhuuske’ includes a number of houses built on concrete floats which move up and down with the water level of the river.


Floating villages of one sort or another in the West-ern world already exist in the U.S. and in Canada (for example in Ladner, BC), while the canal boats in Amsterdam and many other cities essentially function in the same way. Another example is the Floating Market in Bang-kok, Thailand which uses that concept.

Dura Vermeer has ‘picked’ the Haarlemmermeer polder for a number of reasons. Although the company has its corporate home base there, the basic reasons are more diverse. Hoofddorp is located in the Randstad agglomeration, is an urbanized area within a polder, a rapidly growing economic centre with a huge need for housing, and is the location of converging traffic arteries.

Together with a number of other interested parties, including research firms, Dura Vermeer has requested the Department of Economic Affairs to sponsor an all-encompassing feasibility study.