Water as Leverage

2020

The Dutch have built up a formidable legacy throughout centuries of living with water – water has determined the life of the Dutch people. The Netherlands is a coastal country in the North-West European Rhine-Meuse river delta with a temperate maritime climate and frequent rainfall. Over time, the people here have learned to deal with and benefit from these wet conditions, which every Dutch citizen realizes as a child when they are told to learn how to swim quickly to prepare for the ever-present risk of inundation. Alongside this discourse of “risk”, there is another equally important discourse of “opportunity” associated with being surrounded by water. These opportunities arise from shipping trade, of course, but also from engineering ingenious defense structures and enhancing quality of life by innovating new strategies for comprehensive landscaping. The nationwide recognition of these risks and opportunities to respond to them reveals a third benefit from the watery conditions: the genesis and advancement of a unique art of territorial management that relies heavily on the structuring power of water governance. The country’s greatest historians show that the Dutch relationship with water has actually been the core substance of nation building, by cementing a culture of mutual understanding, respect, and collaboration. Social psychologists have also observed that water even influenced the collective state of mind in the Netherlands, where people tend to appreciate the quality of light reflected in water, are inclined to sobriety, and share at once a sense of urgency and of beauty. It is no wonder then that water has inspired the greatest of Dutch artists, names as canonical as Van Goyen, Ruysdael, Vermeer and Mondriaan. For the Dutch, water is so much more than an object of engineering – it is a human condition; it is an inspiration. It is, ultimately, a medium for the country’s unique design.

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