Room for the River Project in Nijmegen

By Elizabeth, Environmental Science; Sophomore

The River Waals in Nijmegen. Photo by Elizabeth.

Imagine your home, the one in which your family has lived for generations, will be demolished so that a river can flood. How would you react? What thoughts are going through your head? What does your home mean to you?

For the trip today, we biked following the story of The Room for the River Project. This project was created to make more space for the river to flow, to prevent major floods in vulnerable areas. The idea was not to battle against water, but to “live with the water.” The Waal river in the space between the cities, Nijmegen and Lent, was one of the locations where the river was widened. There had been previous floods where people had to be evacuated so it made sense for this area to be part of the project. When residents found out, they became alarmed learning that there would soon be water where their house was located. Immediately they became angry and requested to voice their concerns. Previously, solutions to rising water levels was to extend the land but this time, despite concerns by local people by the river, the national government decided that allocating space for flooding was in the best interest of the people. 

Andrea, an architect and stakeholder coordinator for this project for the City of Nijmegen, spent time with these families, as emotional support for their transition. It was touching to hear how she stayed beside those families in the difficult moments like the last day in their house. A house, like people, has so much value. To many it is a place that holds years of memories and is part of their identity. There were pictures and videos taken of each house bulldozed, to give a voice to what was lost. These meetings with families demonstrate the importance of communication and human connection. Even now, several years afterwards, Andrea mentioned that she gets invited to events by these residents. 

Surprisingly enough, residents agreed to the project and ended up being a part of the project team. They were able to voice their concerns for safety, for example, building a wall to block water from the homes west of project in Lent. The Room for the Riverproject team also agreed to take measures to preserve cultural heritage. Residents were able to adapt and enjoy the changes, and city dwellers started to appreciate the river more. Stopping on a bridge we noticed bikers riding the curves. There were also fun chairs, so there is space to relax, look out and enjoy nature. 

The Room for the River Projectwas the start of more development of Nijmegen and Lent, to create a welcoming place-a new home for everyone. This is a story of coexistence between humans, change, and the river.   

Today’s biking distance: 62.2 km (38.7 miles)

Provinces we have visited we have visited or biked through (of 12 in the Netherlands): 4

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