Creating safer cities on water

Realising that the best ideas could come from a range of thinkers, Ovink launched the Rebuild by Design competition to bring design-centred thinking into planning.

The Dutch are famously linked to water. With more than 20 per cent of the Netherlands below sea level, and 50 per cent less than one metre above, they have a long history of working with the stuff.

It is not surprising then, that when the world needs advice on water management, they turn to the Low Countries. And when they do, their first contact may be Henk Ovink. The former director of the Dutch office of Spatial Planning and Water Management, Ovink has made a name for himself at home as much as he has abroad. He is now the Senior Advisor to US Secretary Shaun Donovan who chairs the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

Collaborating with American experts on how to prevent devastation from future catastrophes, like that witnessed during Hurricane Sandy, Ovink summarises his approach to the New York Times as, “Every time you rebuild, you have to think about water.”

Realising that the best ideas could come from a range of thinkers, Ovink launched the Rebuild by Design competition to bring design-centred thinking into planning. With a group of 148 teams made up of experts in a variety of disciplines — architecture, urban design, engineering, ecology, communications — their designs could also prevent future storms like Sandy from ever causing such destruction again.

The ultimate success of those designs relies on the capacity for teamwork. Understanding technical needs, as well as those of the local communities, politics and cultures are essential. Indeed, Ovink told the New York Times he experiences pushback on a regular basis. But through passion, collaboration and visions for better, safer cities the Dutchman works with local experts to cocreate safer cities on water.