Queen Máxima’s visit indicates the Dutch have ideas to share with Houston, and vice versa

It’s not every day that Houston hosts royalty, and so the school children who came to greet Queen Máxima of the Netherlands at City Hall on Friday were prepared for the occasion, wearing orange t-shirts – a Dutch national symbol – and carrying homemade gifts and signs.

A little girl, wearing an orange crown, came forward to kiss the queen, who returned the gesture with a smile. Nils Noordhuis, a student at the British International School of Houston, posed for a photo with the royal and several classmates. “I’ve never met her before,” he explained.

Friday marked the culmination of a four-day tour of the United States for Queen Máxima, who visited leaders in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Austin before traveling to Houston, with a phalanx of leaders from the Dutch government, academia, and industry. The purpose of the visit was to highlight existing ties between the United States and the Netherlands as well as explore other partnership opportunities.

In Austin, Queen Máxima met with urban mobility experts as well as Governor Greg Abbott, Mayor Steve Adler and players from Austin FC, the professional soccer club that began playing in 2021. In Houston, she visited the children’s ward at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. after a morning devoted to flood control — a topic of common interest for the Houston area and the Dutch Lowlands.

Diana Mulder and Sharmila van der Vlugt, friends from Houston’s Dutch community who came for the occasion, thought that traveling between Texas and the Netherlands can feel like going through a portal to a parallel universe. In the Netherlands, they joked, everything is small except the people, who are known for their commitment to LGBTQ inclusivity, gender equity and environmentalism, as well as their tall stature.

In Texas, it may seem the opposite, although both women noted that Houston stands out, worldwide, for its diversity.

“I think they can learn a lot from each other,” said Mulder, of his two homes. It was a recurring theme throughout the day.

At City Hall, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner presented Queen Máxima with a pair of Houston Hat Company cowboy hats — one for her, he explained, and one for her. husband, King Willem-Alexander, who stayed home while recovering from pneumonia. She gave him a crystal ball made by a famous Dutch designer, which he agreed would come in handy.

Eye opening

The visit to Houston was eye-opening for Dutch visitors in some ways.

“I have to be honest, I’ve never seen so much concrete,” said Arnoud Molenaar, director of resilience for Rotterdam, a major port city and part of the global network of resilient cities, of which Turner is chairman. “It’s all waterproof, so – where does the rain go?”

Flood control is an existential problem for the low lying Netherlands. The storm surge barrier system planned to protect Galveston Bay — the “Ike Dyke,” as Houstonians commonly call it — is of unprecedented scope and scale anywhere but the Netherlands., said Col. Kenneth Reed, commander of the Southwest Division of the Army Corps of Engineers.

But big plans aren’t enough, Molenaar said. The Rotterdam experiences show that cities should take a much broader view of resilience.

“Storm surge barriers — levies or levees or whatever you call them — are crucial,” he said. “But if you want to become a climate-resilient city, you need measurements at all scales, even at the scale of a tile in your garden.”

He meant that literally. A few years ago, Rotterdam challenged Amsterdam to a competition to see which cities could remove the most tiles that had formed impermeable barriers over the years and gardens and prevented water from being absorbed into the ground.. “Tile taxis” criss-crossed neighborhoods to collect discarded tiles. Rotterdam won the competition.

Such strategies have a role to play, Molenaar explained, alongside multibillion-dollar infrastructure improvements such as the Ike Dyke.

“We had to go through this process in our head, okay, sea level rise is accelerating – and what’s next after this barrier?” said Molenaar. “I think Houston can do both now, at the same time. Learn from our past experiences, and also look back in time.

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About Catharine C. Bean

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