City of Fort Lauderdale, FL

10/07/2022 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 10/07/2022 15:39

Resilience on the Rhine: Fort Lauderdale and Duisburg Compare Critical Notes on Combatting Climate Change

City of Fort Lauderdale Assistant Director of Public Works - Sustainability Nancy Gassman, Ph.D., recently traveled with Mayor Dean Trantalis to sister city Duisburg, Germany. Below she describes the takeaways for Fort Lauderdale and the similarities both cities face in dealing with the changes in our environment.

by: Dr. Nancy Gassman

Why go to Duisburg, Germany?

The City of Duisburg applied for and received a grant from the Urban Diplomacy Exchange to cover costs associated with inviting a three-person delegation from their sister city, Fort Lauderdale, to discuss climate challenges. Both cities are being impacted by climate change and historic weather events, Duisburg by extreme rain and drought, and Fort Lauderdale by extreme rain and sea level rise.The trip was an opportunity to rekindle the sister cities relationship initiated in 2012, which was initiated recognizing certain similarities, including being a port city and having a river run through both City centers.

We were hosted by the City of Duisburg International Relations Office and accompanied throughout the four days by Duisburg's Deputy Mayor, Edeltraud Klabuhn. This team put together a full agenda each day to discuss critical climate topics and visit locations throughout the City, demonstrating the enormous scope of their challenges and their substantial commitment to adapting to current and future environmental conditions.

Reducing Carbon Footprint

On our first tour, we met with Thomas Schmidt, CEO Franz Haniel & Cie, who described the concept of "enkelfähig," investing in the future generations along clear sustainability guidelines and performance criteria. The City of Duisburg was collaborating with Haniel, Duisport, and other companies to re-imagine and redevelop a portion of the Port (previously used as a coal depot) and the surrounding community as part of the Urban Zero Ruhrort project. They are actively planning to revitalize this neighborhood while addressing the commitments of the Paris Climate Accord to reduce their carbon footprint and transition their energy sources by the established deadlines. This tour had parallels with some of the City's recent Public-Private partnerships (P3s) and participation on the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce Economic Resilience Committee, highlighting how important partnering with commercial and retail establishments was to support the long-term viability, cultural richness, and health of their community. Fort Lauderdale's investments through the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) are achieving some of these goals, and the City needs to continue building on its current efforts to encourage investment in renewable energy in our community.

Repurposing Brown Fields

We toured multiple industrial sites being transformed into new community amenities such as a (RhinePark) skate park, an urban forest, new retail, schools, and additional housing (RhineOrt). We visited several projects intended to reconnect people with the Rhine River, similar to initiatives on the New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The Green belt at Bruckhausen project focused on intense public outreach to remove blighted housing to create a large green space creating a buffer to more industrial sites while revitalizing and making the neighborhood more attractive. This project reinforced the need for and value of purchasing additional land for parks and green space, being supported by the Fort Lauderdale Parks Bond. The conversion of a retired steel plant (Landschaftspark Nord) to a destination park with an outdoor cinema, the use of old fuel tanks to teach scuba diving, and the repurposing of large storage buildings for events and music festivals spotlighted Duisburg's creativity in re-imaging these former industrial brownfield sites. Fort Lauderdale's P3 for the ArtsPark and the construction of a movie studio on the Fort Lauderdale Wingate landfill site are hometown examples of this type of effort.

Storm and Waste Water

We also toured large-scale operational and community development projects to address sanitary sewer treatment, water conservation, and flood protection. We were given a presentation on how rainfall distribution has changed from a high-frequency low-intensity event over their rainy season to low-frequency high-intensity events causing droughts and extreme rainfall resulting in catastrophic flash flooding. We visited a new large-scale planned community under construction called Sponge City. Water retention opportunities with multiple catchment areas along roadways and housing constructed with green roofs and cisterns for water collection are part of their toolbox to address drought. The project highlighted how expensive housing is in Duisburg and surrounding cities. The need for affordable housing is shared between the sister cities.

We toured a sewer treatment plant which discharged its treated effluent to the Rhine. The city has combined sanitary sewer and storm sewer systems. They had added ozonation treatment to address residual medications in the waste stream, at a significant cost, not for the benefit of their community or for regulatory mandate but for the health of the people of the Netherlands who use the Rhine for drinking water. While areas like Sponge City will help retain stormwater, the issue of combined sewers will need to be addressed at some time in the future. This tour highlighted how Fort Lauderdale's upgraded dedicated sanitary sewer collection and treatment system and effluent disposal method provided a much greater level of environmental and human health protection.

Following a presentation on flood protection and recent extreme rainfall events, we visited embankments in Mündelheim and Laar. These are enormous structures taller and wider than the dykes separating our western cities from the Everglades. They have had to reclaim flood plains to give the water a place to go. Unlike Fort Lauderdale, which is dealing with tropical storms, extreme rainfall, and sea level rise causing flooding from overland flow, Duisburg is dealing with both pluvial (rainfall-driven) and fluvial (riverine-driven) flooding. As a major river basin with runoff converging into the Rhine River from higher elevations and tributaries, the City's efforts to provide flood protection are more similar to techniques seen in the Mississippi River valley. However, the decision to tackle flooding challenges comprehensively with substantial resources supports our City's current approach and investment in implementing the $100M Stormwater Master Plan.

Transportation Solutions

The Fort Lauderdale delegation met over lunch with the Mayor of the City of Duisburg, Sören Link, and US Consul General, Pauline Kao. The mayors discussed the current state and overarching challenges of their cities. Commonalities included both mayors' visions to move transportation systems underground through their city centers and diversify and transition economies. US Consul General Kao highlighted the value of these types of urban diplomacy exchanges in creating greater cultural and economic connection across the globe.

Environment Meets Technology

We also visited the Hydrogen and Fuel Center at the University of Duisburg-Essen, an agency that bridged the gap between pure academics and the applied industry to understand their approach to the deliberate and comprehensive transition from carbon-based fuel to hydrogen. The goals of the Paris Agreement dictated the need to rapidly develop the technology for the generation and delivery of carbon emission-free fuel sources. The take-home message was that everyone has a stake in the development of new fuel technology from the vehicle owner, to the fuel distributor to the automaker. There may be an opportunity at some point to consider the transition to new-generation aviation fuels at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.


Meals included members of the community, such as representatives of local vo-tech institutions and the DAFN (German American association). The discussion centered around opportunities to have greater commercial exchange and opened the door to creating internship programs with Duisburg's boating and steel production vo-tech schools for a mutual exchange of students.

Overall, this type of exchange demonstrates the ingenuity harnessed to tackle large-scale climate issues and the value of committing to the long-term vision to help the community evolve as environmental and economic climates change. Duisburg's efforts informed and reinforced the Commission's Net Zero resolution passed in December 2021 and encouraged the engagement of stakeholders to seek out and implement solutions. Fort Lauderdale staff will again meet up with the core Duisburg contingent at the Urban Diplomatic Exchange taking place in Washington, DC, on October 18-20, 2022, to continue the conversation.