In most cities, the storm water overflow infrastructure is costly and complicated. It usually involves a series of pipes and basins that hold water after sudden or prolonged rainfall until the standard rainwater runoff avenues are again freed up. But what if the flood-prevention measures of a city actually worked to beautify it while keeping it safe? That’s what the creators of Waterpleinen – or Water Squares – hope to do for Rotterdam.
The proposal is a radical change from the standard. Rather than hiding the storm runoff system beneath the streets and homes of the city, creators Florian Boer and Marco Vermeulen want to create basins to hold filtered storm water when Rotterdam experiences heavy rainfall. The basins won’t simply give the water a place to go so that it doesn’t flood the city, though; they’ll become part of the urban landscape.
For the majority of the year, when the basins are empty, they will be dynamic public spaces rich in opportunities for recreation. And even when the rains fill up the basins and they become impromptu canals and reservoirs, the Water Squares would be ideal places to gather and enjoy the seasonal delights of a fluid wonderland. And although a storm water runoff basin may not seem like the ideal place to take the family for a relaxing afternoon, the water is all filtered before reaching the Waterpleinen. And because Rotterdam, historically, doesn’t receive enough rain to make the Waterpleinen necessary more than a 5% to 10% of the time, the water would never sit stagnant for any significant amount of time.
In theory, above-ground storm water runoff would save cities a great deal of money in infrastructure maintenance costs. And, of course, the aesthetic and recreational value of the Water Squares would be priceless. The Waterpleinen concept has been in the works since 2005, and it will still require a fair bit of research before it can be implemented. But Rotterdam officials are excited about the idea, and if any city is going to lead the way in the change of storm water runoff handling, Rotterdam is the perfect place to start.