Since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the Russian-Ukrainian war has been causing unimaginable loss and grief. Constant shelling is destroying homes, amenities and infrastructure. Some cities like Mariupol have been almost completely wiped out due to the Russian tactics of ‘burned land’. While Ukraine fights for its freedom, politicians, professionals and citizens are already thinking of reconstruction plans for this diverse and extensive territory. It might feel strange and uncomfortable to discuss the reconstruction of a country that is still at war, but the lessons from the reconstruction of Rotterdam tell us to prepare now.
How could the Dutch professional community support Ukraine in reconstructing its cities? Many Dutch cities were bombed during the Second World War. The city that has identified itself most profoundly with post-war reconstruction is Rotterdam. Moreover, Ukrainians view Rotterdam as a model of city rebuilding. Ukrainian urbanists such as Urban Reforms and Alex Shutyuk have independently published their own Rotterdam analyses.
Of course, you cannot literally transfer one historical reconstruction situation to another one. Furthermore, the reconstruction of Rotterdam has not been an unconditional success: it was a top-down strategy with hardly any public involvement. The focus on economic and technological recovery was too one-sided and based on faith in a trickle-down effect from the port. And because Rotterdam lost its connection to the pre-war city, there was little room for commemorating the bombardment or preserving heritage, either tangible and intangible. Conceptually, several things can be learned from Rotterdam – both positive and negative.
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