Complexities of Multi-level Climate Change Governance in Rotterdam

Despite Rotterdam’s overwhelmingly successful management of climate-change-associated flood risk, complexities and difficulties continue to stymie multi-level governance. This provides other cities seeking flood risk reduction an opportunity to learn useful governance lessons.

Uncertainty predicates the need for multi-level, multi-scale and multi-actor governance. Since the flood problem transcends geographical scales and sectors, adaptation strategies benefit from a multi-level government structure.

However, this carries its own set of difficulties:

lesson 1.png


This is further illustrated with the following case studies:

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lesson 3

lesson 4

We gather from these case studies that key problems stem from misaligned objectives and difficulties in assigning responsibility.

Continued attempts to distinguishing between global or local, state or non-state actors and processes perpetuates disjointed policy generation, non-transparent responsibility allocation and the lack of incentive for actors to cooperate.

The recognition of the local scale as an important site for governance is an important first step. Local authorities often have authority over land-use and the flexibility to meet predefined policy goals set within national and international arenas while exercising power to remain sensitive to local contexts. This makes the local is a highly appropriate political jurisdiction (Bulkeley and Betsill, 2006).

Despite the growing influence of non-state actors in environmental regimes, their significance remains determined by their ability to shape, facilitate and change national, regional or global policies. This points to problematic fundamental assumptions that equate political power with the nation-state or large-scale institutions.

Hence, it is worth considering that the success of multi-level governance begins with throwing out assumptions of a vertical relationship that consigns local governance to the bottom of this hierarchy.


Resources I used:

Betsill, M. M. and Bulkeley, H. (2006) ‘Cities and the Multilevel Governance of Global Climate Change’, Global Governance, Vol. 12, 141 – 159.

Ward, P. J., Pauw, W. P., van Buuren, M. W. & Marfai, M. A. (2013) ‘Governance of flood risk management in a time of climate change: the cases of Jakarta and Rotterdam’, Environmental Politics, Vol. 22, No. 3, 518 – 536.

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Seoullo 7017: A political vanity project? (Part 2)

Source (Cover Image): Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2016

The shift to aestheticised green landscapes

With the current ‘back to nature’ trend, Seoullo 7017 highlights how cities are now developing new aesthetic forms – shifting away from the giant metal megastructures of the past to greener urban landscapes (Kaika and Swyngedou, 2000: 129). Industrial statements similar to the likes of Paris’ Eiffel tower no longer emerge as new urban forms (Figure 1). Instead, nature has been a hot addition to urban forms, as seen not only through Seoullo 7017, but also in many other cities (Figure 2).

Figure 1. (from top) Eiffel tower in Paris, made of puddled iron, is one of the world’s most renowed landmark; Beijing’s Bird Nest National Stadium utilises steel supports for its retractable roof while also spotting steel frames in an attempt to hide the steel supports; Brooklyn Bridge in New York which was the first bridge in the world to be suspended by steel. The use of metal and magnitude of these structures used to be a symbol of industrial power and progress.

Source: Conde Nast, 2017; Visit Our China;

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Figure 2. (from top) Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, Shanghai’s Lujiazui circular bridge, Fukuoka’s ACROS building: all spotting pops of green, thereby highlighting the increasing emphasis of embedding nature into the concrete jungle of infrastructures.

Source: Gardens by the Bay; Viktor Lakics in Nelson, 2012; Green Roofs, 2011


Tokenism or a political vanity project?

However, after its opening earlier in May, visitors have shared complains about Seoullo 7017’s lack of shade, causing it to be too hot during summer and potentially too cold in winter (Jackson, 2017) (Figure 3). This is not ideal for the discomfort and hence possible deterrence of using the pedestrian roads nullifies its intrinsic purpose. Consequently, it raises the question of whether too much emphasis had been placed on its aesthetic form at the negligence its usability. Furthermore, it fuels suspicions on whether Seoullo 7017 is just a mere tokenism in the green movement, or just a ‘vanity project’ for Mayor Park in his hopes for running for the presidency (Simon, 2016Dunbar, 2017).


An, the store owner at Namdaemun Market, called the park “a waste of money.”

“There’s no shade up there, it’s really exposed,” he said. “And in winter it will be hit by the cold wind that blows down from Mt. Namsan. Who’ll go there?

Jackson, 2017


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Figure 3. An example of a review left on Seoullo 7017’s Trip Advisor page, warning other visitors of the summer daytime heat

Source: Trip Advisor


False promises of revitalisation? 

Another thread of concern arised regarding the potential empty promises of bringing in more visitors by foot (Figure 4) and instead, leading to further decline of the once popular Namdaemun market (Fifield, 2017; Chang, 2017). While not much is know about any improvement in number of visitors, the closure of the overpass has already brought inconvenience to local small clothes businesses – by lengthening travel time between sewing workshops in Mallidong and clothes stores in Namdaemun Market (Jackson, 2017).


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Figure 4. An excerpt from Seoullo 7017 website with Seoul Metropolitan Government’s appeal of helping to attract more people by its pedestrian roads to revitalise Namdaemun Market

Source: Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2016


But the pains of affected businesses are real.

Back in 2015 I commuted by scooter across the overpass every day for three months. One day after my scooter broke down in Namdaemun, I had the chance to accompany a Mallidong mechanic in his truck over Seoul Station Overpass. I remarked about how its removal would hurt his business, and the pained look on his face was genuine.

Later, he relocated his shop outside the city. 

Dunbar, 2017


Concluding thoughts

Until surveys and studies are conducted to get the numbers on the pedestrians flow of Seoullo 7017 and the visitors flow in nearby areas, these are still speculations. However, what is prominent here, especially with the negative reception of Seoullo 7017, is the lack of trust in politicians.

The mistrust largely stems from past experiences of politicians breaking their promises when it comes to fancy projects, such as the recent revitalisation project of Cheonggye Stream (Figure 5). In the case of Seoullo 7017, fault lines of political trustworthiness is showing as the promised access points from the main pedestrian road to local shops do not seem to be happening (Jackson, 2017).

While I personally hope that Seoullo 7017 would bring the crowds in, things do not look positive for the powerless local businesses.


Kwon, owner of a handmade shoes store on the street by Yeomcheon Bridge, maintains that Seoul Metropolitan Government initially promised to include a branch leading down from Seoullo 7017 to the sidewalk near his street, bringing a potential increase in pedestrian traffic and customers.

“We believed them, so we didn’t protest much at first,” he said. “But then the park plans changed, and now there’s no ramp or staircase down. I understand that this is a city project and we can’t block it, but they’ve provided no compensation and offered no alternatives.”

Jackson, 2017

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Figure 5. Brief overview of the experience marketers had after the Cheonggye Stream revitalisation project took place, highlighting how the local small businesses and their livelihoods were not taken into consideration at all.

[350 words]


  • Kaika, M. and E. Swyngedouw (2000) Fetishizing the Modern City: The Phantasmagoria of Urban Technological Networks.

    International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 24, 1, 120-138.

  • Jackson, B. (2017) Seoullo 7017: Urban Asset or Vanity Project? Korea Expose, [online]. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017]
  • Simon, D. (2016) Rethinking Sustainable Cities: Accessible, green and fair. Bristol: Policy Press.
  • Dunbar, J. (2017) Seoullo 7017: Mayor Park’s Cheonggye project. The Korea Times, [online]. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017]
  • Fifield, A. (2017) Seoul, a city ‘with no soul,’ builds its own High Line on an old overpass. The Washington Post, [online]. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017]
  • Chang, M.C. (2017) Say hello to Seoul’s new sky park. The Straits Times, [online]. Available at: [Accessed 19 Dec. 2017]



The “I” in Iamsterdam: Concluding Remarks, Reflection

Screen Shot 2018-01-03 at 22.46.51.pngPhoto 1: Iamsterdam logo at Museum Square, Iamsterdam 2016

The developments discussed in my blogposts show the transition of Amsterdam’s linear flows of material mobility, water and energy into a circular process that has made waste become a resource within of itself. Economically, Amsterdam’s sustainable agenda also provides the city with up to 50,000 jobs and 7 billion in revenue in the long run.

Continue reading The “I” in Iamsterdam: Concluding Remarks, Reflection

Green and gated (II), but also really hated: The right to the city in KL

In a previous post, I expressed my surprise at how ‘gatedness’ has become a social aspiration in KL. Therefore, rather than rejecting the formation of gated communities, it is actually something actively promoted and blatantly marketed by the real estate sector (Tedong et al., 2016).

Less surprising, however, is the controversy that this phenomenon generates. Constructing residential enclosures necessarily implies that less affluent fractions of the urban society are left out. In an alternate world with unlimited land this may be less contentious. But when the realisation of such real estate projects is founded upon take-overs and re-makes of once-public lands, it is not difficult to imagine why this consistently hits a raw nerve in affected communities around KL.

The bigger irony in KL’s land politics lies in how such land acquisition to build green residences often involves threatening existing green spaces.

The tussle over the fate of Taman Rimba Kiara, KL’s last remaining green lung

One day residents of Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) noticed a unforeseen City Hall notice regarding a new residential project that would occupy (read: remove) up to 47.5% of Taman Rimba Kiara:

‘Say bye bye to your green space because #tradeoff #development #weneedroads #weneedhomes’ (source:

Residents first protested this move on emotional grounds – that green spaces, especially lungs such as Taman Rimba Kiara, should be preserved for public use, particularly in the context of an overwhelming concretised landscape like KL.

It’s a space for bird-watching – hard to do that among the skyscrapers in most areas in KL. (source:
Children get to engage with the greens here as well. (source:
Recreational cycling away from the stresses of KL’s congested roads. (source:

“Land under Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan should not be involved in high-density projects… you can keep it reasonable or keep it green.”

P. Gunasilan, a retired town planner interviewed by The Malaysian Insight

Authorities who permitted this development took greater heed when these residents filed a public law suit on the legality of this permit.

A tale of many cities: Whose rights, what rights, what right is right?

Take out KL’s name and this narrative could easily be misplaced as the experiences of many other communities all around the world (Ealing, London; Melton, Melbourne; Bang Krachao, Bangkok; Hong Kong; Singapore). It’s a sobering reality.

I guess this poses a continual reflection on Lefebvre’s question – whose rights and what rights define the city? There are certainly legal structures in place to protect certain access to certain urban resources. Yet in this particular case, we see how there is no fixity in such safeguards, when those tasked with the responsibility of upholding them might be the very ones who disregard.

To complicate thoughts on this further, let’s consider the fact that part of this residential development is aimed to rehouse low-income residents displaced from this neighbourhood before.

David Harvey (2008: 23) has succinctly asserted a ‘collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation’. Yet there remain many collective pockets in an urban society. The existing communities threatened, those in need of homes, nature-lovers, profit-seeking developers – when each collective group views their own interests as legitimate and principled, what is actually the rightful definition of a ‘right to the city’?

[427 words]

Read more from my sources:

  1. Agence France Presse (2013) ‘Hong Kong’s hunt for homes threatens green space’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from
  2. Fyfe, M. (2002) ‘Melbourne’s green lungs fight for breath’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from
  3. Harvey, D. (2008) ‘The Right to the City’, New Left Review, 2, 53, 23 – 40.
  4. Lefebvre, H. (1996) ‘The right to the city’, in K. Eleonore & L. Elizabeth (eds.) Writings on cities. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell.
  5. Looi, A. (2017) ‘TTDI residents are protesting against a new development, but do they actually have the rights?’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from
  6. Nair, V. (2017) ‘Split in the middle over TTDI longhouse issue’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from
  7. Reuben, E. (2017) ‘The battle to save Bangkok’s green lungs’. Retrieved 19th December from
  8. Tan, A. (2016) ‘More than 12, 000 signatures to rethink MRT line under nature reserve’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from 
  9. Tan, W. P. (2017) ‘TTDI residents to sue City Hall to save Taman Rimba Kiara’. Retrieved 19th December from 
  10. Tedong, P. A. , Azriyati, W. N., Aziz, W. A., Hanif, N. R., Zyed, Z. A., & Aziz, N. A. (2016) ‘Planning implications of guarded neighbourhoods in Malaysia’, Community Development Journal, 52, 4, 558 – 572. 
  11. Watts, P. (2017) ‘Green space v social housing: The fight for the future of London’s oldest allotments’. Retrieved 19th December 2017 from

Seoullo 7017: Reducing environmental inequalities (Part 1)

Source (Cover Image): Korea Tourism Organisation 

Background of Seoullo 7017 (서울로 7017)

Seoullo 7017 is a project that involves the building of a pedestrianised sky garden atop of the old Seoul Station overpass. Its name is derived from it being a traffic road in the 70s to a sky garden in 2017. There are also additional meanings to the “17” – with the pedestrianised garden road is divided into 17 unique sections, and the road being located 17 meters above the ground (Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2016).

Video 1. Overview of Seoullo 7017 and the areas nearby

Source: Droneshot, 2017

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Figure 1. Overview of the 17 pedestrian roads connected to the main road of Seoullo 7017

Source: Seoul Metropolitan Government, 2016

Reducing environmental inequality in Seoul

I learnt about Seoullo 7017 from an article in The Guardian earlier this year (Figure 2). What amazed me about the project was its massive scale of greening: the path is lined with 24,000 plants, which are indigenous species arranged according to the Korean alphabets. Furthermore, the sky garden has the potential of becoming an urban nursery, where when plants grow too big, they can be replanted elsewhere in the city, or sold.

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Figure 2. An article from The Guardian which lauded the success of Seoullo 7017, in comparison to the abandoned Garden Bridge project in London, despite an estimated £46.4m being spent in the planning.

Source: The Guardian, 2017

As such, Seoullo 7017 epitomises nature’s services, of how urban areas can mitigate their own negative externalities (Pincetl, 2010). Seoullo 7017 is a micro-scale reforestation project, where the increased number of trees and its consequential benefits helps to alleviate the prevalent problems associated with urbanisation i.e. improving air quality, reducing rainfall runoff, reducing people’s stress levels, etc(Heynen et al., 2006). However, due to the benefits that urban trees and plants bring, the social production and access to green spaces like Seoullo 7017, is important in shaping just and unjust urban landscapes (Landry and Chakraborty, 2009)

With rising wealth in cities worldwide, there has been an increase in preference for quiet and personal green spaces and thus, privatisation of green spaces (Coolen and Meesters, 2012). This becomes problematic as urban residents without the financial ability will suffer from being ‘unable to produce local and healthy urban ecologies for themselves’ and hence heavily depend on public ecological amenities (Heynen et al., 2006: 5). 

Concluding thoughts

Therefore, Seoullo 7017, a public space with no exclusionary rules, serves to benefit disadvantaged urban residents who are reliant on public investment and green initiatives for their consumption of urban ecological amenities (Heynen et al., 2006).

In this post, I investigated how Seoullo 7017 has enabled the reduction of environmental inequalities in Seoul. However, I noticed other recurring themes and concerns raised and will hence examine the flip side of how Seoullo 7017 could potentially widen other aspects of urban inequality in my next post.

[370 words]


  • Seoul Metropolitan Government (2016) Seoullo 7017. Seoul Metropolitan Government, [online]. Available at: [Accessed 15 Dec. 2017]
  • Pincetl, S. (2010) From the sanitary city to the sustainable city: challenges to institutionalising biogenic (nature’s services) infrastructure. Local Environment, 15, 1, 43-58.

  • Heynen, N., H.A. Perkins and P. Roy (2006) The Political Ecology of Uneven Urban Green Space – The Impact of Political Economy on Race and Ethnicity in Producing Environmental Inequality in Milwaukee. Urban Affairs Review, 42, 1, 3-25.
  • Coolen, H. and J. Meesters (2012) Private and public green spaces: meaningful but different settings. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 27, 1, 49-67.

“Room for the River” – Climate Change Resilience and Urban Redesign

Rotterdam is known to be well adapted to sea level rise. This is the result of a long history with flood management.




Storm from the North Sea

The Maeslant Barrier was constructed as part of the Delta Works project. However, as with the limitations of traditional flood barriers and sea walls (listed below), the Maeslant Barrier had its limitations.

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Maeslant Barrier

Hence, structures like the Maeslant Barrier are not long-term solutions to rising sea levels and does not necessarily keep Rotterdam safe from flooding.

This raises the question:

“How much can we resist nature?”

Today, instead of “protecting” the city, Rotterdam has adopted a different “room for the river” approach which allows rivers to expand by creating release valves for swelling rivers to drain into designated public spaces (Goddell, 2017).

Netherlands’ solution is to let water in, where possible, not hope to subdue Mother Nature; to live with the water, rather than struggle to defeat it (Kimmelman, 2017).

Harold van Waveren

This stems from changing mindsets towards climate change as not just a hypothetical possibility or economic burden, but an opportunity to generate new and creative strategies.

The result,

  • urban redesign to creates water parks, plazas and public squares that improve everyday living
  • spaces double as enormous storage basins for when the seas and rivers spill over, keeping the water from flooding streets and neighbourhoods
  • e.g. Eendragtspolder, a recreational area which has become a popular retreat for families and water-sports enthusiasts (seen below)


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To evaluate the success of Rotterdam’s flood management strategies, it would be useful to understand the concept of RESILIENCE.

A resilient system is one which returns to either an old or new stable state even after significant fluctuation (Holling, 1973).

Sea walls and flood levees employ engineering resilience thinking which in policy terms is concerned with the time required for the system to return to original state. However, this type of thinking is ill-suited towards climate variability and change (Funfgeld and McEvoy, 2012).

As resilience gains popularity as a prescribed remedy for dealing with climate variability in cities, a growing number of governmental and non-governmental organisations seek ready-made, off-the-shell toolkits for “resilience building” (Davoudi, 2012). This is problematic as cities cannot be understood at unitary and neutral containers.

Davoudi and Strange (2009) extends the concept with evolutionary resilience which emphasises “fluidity, reflexivity, contingency, connectivity, multiplicity and polyvocality”. Recognising cities as complex, interconnected socio-spatial systems with unpredictable feedback processes operating at various scales and timeframes (Davoudi and Strange, 2009), evolutionary resilience advocates exploration and transformation, offering a useful framework to think about urban planning (Kimmelman, 2017).

Evolutionary resilience thinking in Rotterdam recognises the uncertainties and rapid change that climate change brings about. Protection against flood risk in Rotterdam builds resilience, by moving beyond building gates and dams to a new philosophy of spatial planning and redesign for crisis management (Kimmelman, 2017). Creating “room for the river” points towards a sustainable and long-term approach to the inherent unpredictability of climate change.

“In ecological literature, the desirable outcome of resilience is sustainability” (Davoudi, 2012).

With fortifications knitted seamlessly into streets and squares such that they become a boon for daily life, flood and climate change management is connected with social welfare and neighbourhood improvements in Rotterdam.

“Environmental and social resilience should go hand-in-hand, improving neighbourhoods, spreading equity, and taming water during catastrophes. Climate adaptation ought to yield a stronger, richer state.” (Kimmelman, 2017)

This certainly seems like the case for Rotterdam!


Some of the resources I used:

Davoudi, S. (2012) ‘Resilience: A Bridging Concept or a Dead End?’, Planning Theory and Practice, Vol. 13, No. 2, 299 – 307.

Davoudi, S. & Strange, I. (2009) “Space and place in the twentieth century planning: An analytical framework and an historical review” in S. Davoudi & I. Strange (eds) Conceptions of Space and Place in Strategic Spatial Planning, London: Routledge, 7–42.

Funfgeld, H. and McEvoy, D. (2012) ‘Resilience as a Useful Concept for Climate Change Adaptation’, Planning Theory and Practice, Vol. 13, No. 2, 324 – 328.

Holling, C.S. (1973) “Resilience and stability of ecological systems”, Annual Review of Ecological Systems, Vol. 4, 1–23.

Kimmelman, M. (2017) ‘Coping with climate change: How the Dutch are facing down rising waters’ can be accessed by clicking here!

Goddell, J. (2017) ‘Rotterdam has learned to cope with rising seas. Here’s how.’ can be accessed here!


(534 words)


The Hackable City: Urban Futures

Figure 1: Amsterdam Smart City Schemes Infogram – 2017

From the example of the collaborative approaches found in the Buiksloterham and Amsterdam Noord, we see a successful balancing of collaboration and economic viability whilst maintaining projects within environmental regulations. Yet, the region’s circular initiatives also represent a key component to Amsterdam’s wider Smart City initiative:

Cities are defined as ‘smart’ when investments in traditional and modern communications are used to facilitate sustainable economic development and quality of life; by means of managing natural resources and participatory action

Caragliu et. al, 2009

Continue reading The Hackable City: Urban Futures