Resilient Rotterdam: Green City Lungs for COVID-Recovery

Calendar 19 Nov 2020
Time 4.00 pm – 4.40 pm, GMT+8 
Location Zoom
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Rotterdam’s coat of arms is “stronger through struggle”. Rotterdam is emerging stronger from COVID-19 by building more green public spaces. Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb shares more with Ambassador Jaya Ratnam, and how these projects not only address the pandemic, but also boost the economy, strengthen climate resilience and enhance Rotterdammers’ health and well-being.

Webinar Video




Rotterdam's Seven City Projects Portfolio (PDF: 3.6MB)

Webinar Takeaways

Maashaven: A “Gift to the City”
Investing in green public spaces not only makes a city more healthy and attractive, but can also help the city economically by generating more permanent jobs. Mayor of Rotterdam Ahmed Aboutaleb shares with  Ambassador Jaya Ratnam how Rotterdam’s seven greening projects bring its citizens hope through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

Giving the city hope
in the midst of COVID-19

Mayor Aboutaleb shared how Rotterdam aims to give a signal of hope for the city,. He highlighted how the people with low socioeconomic status need the most support, such as those living at the city’s south bank, who have been hit by the pandemic harder than most.

Mayor Aboutaleb further shared how Rotterdam can invest in making the city greener, which is noteworthy given the city’s heavy industrial character with a bustling port and one of the largest refineries in the world. Mayor Aboutaleb noted that seven projects dedicated to greening Rotterdam can reduce heat stress in the city, make the city more attractive to investment, and provide jobs.

Creating 8,000 permanent jobs for Rotterdam

Mayor Aboutaleb noted that Rotterdam’s former port areas, now empty and adjacent to a lot of water, are spaces with high greening potential. Apart from creating immediate jobs by investing in green projects, the city will become more attractive for investors. The potential slew of housing, office, and hotel construction projects for a growth area will also create jobs. Mayor Aboutaleb further asserted that building one apartment can create two permanent jobs. As the city aims to build 4,000 apartments a year, this would create 8,000 permanent jobs for the city of Rotterdam. 

Making downtown attractive: People who shop downtown are not the ones with cars

Mayor Aboutaleb highlighted the importance of making the city’s downtown area an attractive leisure place, such as with cafés and bars. Noting that pedestrians now bring in more business than people who drive, he shared how one of Rotterdam’s investment projects involves removing 6,000 parking lots in a downtown parking garage to make space for bicycles, and to make Rotterdam even more attractive.

Maashaven: A “Gift to the City”

Mayor Aboutaleb shared how the Maashaven project will be a “gift to the city”. Located in the southern part of the city, where the life expectancy of citizens is two years lower than that of the citizens living downtown, a park will be built over the waters connecting Germany to the Netherlands, along with 3,000-4,000 new homes. In a neighbourhood with few houses and small streets, the park will provide a much needed green space for physical activity and for children to play. It will be co-created with citizens to ensure that the project meets all their needs. Construction will commence later in 2021.

Financing the City’s Green Spaces

Mayor Aboutaleb noted that the seven projects will cost 370 million Euros, a substantial portion of the city’s 4 billion Euro budget. He further shared that although shaping public space is a public duty, Rotterdam is lucky to have the support of two private institutions. As part of the European Union and the Netherlands, Rotterdam can access bank loans with very low interest of less than 1%, to be paid in 15 years’ time. This make it possible for Rotterdam to activate less than 1% of its budget for such projects.

Doubling the use of land

Mayor Aboutaleb admitted that a key challenge when conceptualising the seven projects was having enough space. He highlighted how the Maashaven park will be created on the water, as there is not enough space to invest in such a park on the south bank. Mayor Aboutaleb highlighted the benefits of the “double use of land”, such as having a garage underground and a green space on the surface. He also mentioned how sidewalks that are built to be more porous and absorb more water, or green public spaces, can also play a role in mitigating urban flooding other than their typical urban functions.

Seeking criticism or “free advice” from citizens

When asked about obtaining buy-in from citizens, Mayor Aboutaleb shared how he meets with citizens of various neighbourhoods on a weekly basis, particularly  vulnerable neighbourhoods, to actively seek “criticism” or “free advice”. Noting that the wish of an individual is not necessarily the wish of a whole neighbourhood, the Mayor brings relevant officials to these meetings to glean ideas for improved policies and plans. These plans then go through a reiterative process where citizen feedback for the proposed policies are sought. The Mayor has also begun spending Fridays working in the most vulnerable neighbourhood in the city, discussing issues such as safety and greenery, as well as complex social issues. Mayor Aboutaleb shared how it is more effective to learn from the citizens,  rather than from “an excel sheet”.

About the Speakers


Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb

Ahmed Aboutaleb
Mayor of Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Ahmed Aboutaleb (born 1961 in Morocco) has been Mayor of Rotterdam since 2009. Previously, he served as a State Secretary for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (2007 to 2008) and as a Vice Mayor in Amsterdam (2004-2007) for the Dutch Labour Party. At the age of fifteen, Aboutaleb came to the Netherlands for family reunification.

In the mid-1980s, Aboutaleb started his career in journalism. In 1991, he switched to public service, holding positions with the Ministry of Welfare, Health and Culture; the Social and Economic Council; and Statistics Netherlands. In 1998 he was appointed the administrator of the Forum Institute for Multicultural Development, and in 2002 became the director of the Social, Economic and Cultural Development Department of the Municipality of Amsterdam. 


Ambassador Jaya Ratnam

Jaya Ratnam
Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore to Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the European Union

Mr Jaya Ratnam is currently Ambassador to Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg as well as to the European Union. Mr Ratnam graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and subsequently obtained a Masters in International Public Policy from the School of Advanced International Studies Johns Hopkins University, USA. Mr Ratnam has served various capacities in Europe, Southeast Asia, International Organisations, International Economics and Consular Directorates in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has also served at the Singapore Missions in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Brunei and to the United Nations (Geneva). Mr Ratnam was awarded Singapore's Public Administration Medal (Silver) in 2012 and Long Service Medal in 2014.


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