For me, the political aspects of the Netherlands are always the most interesting. When I tell people about the poldermodel, they’re always fascinated about the consensus building process and the way in which different actors ensure their voices are heard. However, I’m always shocked by how long the process takes considering the existential and ever-present threat the water poses. For example, on page 79, Meyer writes, “the political debate lasted for 50 years before the construction of the Afsluitdijk began in the 1920’s.” The debate lasted this long to balance the concerns of cities bordering the Zuiderzee – who would have their economies radically transformed as the saltwater sea became a freshwater lake – and the need for more productive farmland.
This model of consensus building over the course of decades has worked so far in Dutch history, but I’m worried about what it will mean for the Netherlands as climate change accelerates. The Delta Works, which were a series of massive infrastructure projects built after the devastating 1953 flood, cost around 20% of Dutch GDP at the time to build and began construction in 1958. It took five years and a devastating flood to get them built. It’s estimated that the infrastructure needed to accommodate climate change in the Netherlands will cost the equivalent of about 70% of Dutch GDP. Will it take another devastating flood like 1953 to get a consensus built on that sort of investment? Or will the consensus come, but too late to prevent a massive flood?
This trend is also not helped by the retrenchment of the national government in industrialization, rationalized town planning, and national hydraulic engineering. As Meyer writes on page 90, “the embrace of neoliberal concepts has resulted in the end of the national government’s central position in spatial planning policy. In 2004, the government formalized its new stance in the Nota Ruimte (“Memorandum on Space”), which states many planning responsibilities will be handed over to the municipal and provincial authorities, stimulating the role of the market in spatial development.” Meyer also talks about the regionalization of urban planning, but this move to greater local autonomy seems like it’s coming at the worst time. It incentivizes competition between cities at a point when these cities should be cooperating to prepare for climate change. Of course cities should have some autonomy to try and develop solutions to unique problems they face based on their geography, but the national government should be taking the leading role on addressing these issues.
On the cartoon I chose: it depicts Dutch Prime Minister* Mark Rutte on a stick above a polder. There are two politicians yelling at him for more or less. It represents the tension he faces for expanding or shrinking the national government’s role in the Netherlands. But, if he doesn’t make a decision, he risks falling into the water, just like the Netherlands does.
*he’s currently acting Prime Minister but he’s been leading the country since 2010.