How the Dutch created Holland

It’s often said that God created the Earth, and the Dutch made Holland. Now a study has been published on how they did it: very pragmatically.

Dr Fransje Hooimeijer wrote a book that most people assumed already existed: ‘The Tradition of Making Polder Cities’. It describes how civil engineering and urbanism developed hand in hand by building cities on the weak, wet and flood-prone soils of the Netherlands ever since the time of first settlements.

“It’s mostly on making the soil construction ready,” says Hooimeijer. “But people never thought it useful to document what they did, because they assumed everyone knew it all. I’ve found only one book one the topic.”

Once you start thinking about it, making the soil construction ready has many different aspects, such as water, groundwater, bearing capacity, driving in piles, and permeability of the soil. Urban design on the other hand also has numerous aspects: public green, public functions, infrastructure and integrating conflicting interests. Now imagine putting these together into the Fine Dutch Tradition, the culture that created the famous Amsterdam ring of canals, which were simultaneously the underlying structure for the urban design as well as the new waterway system.

In her book, Hooimeijer primarily used Rotterdam as her area of study and described its emergence and expansion. She shows that, especially since the industrial revolution, the power to manipulate the landscape has grown enormously. This enabled city builders to develop bigger areas with less reference to the original landscape – they just covered it with loads of sand and created featureless districts.

In the 1970s there was a turning point, says Hooimeijer. The oil crisis, the Club of Rome report on limits to growth, and a few near-inundations prompted developers to refer more to the existing landscape and water systems. It’s often better to make use of what’s already there than to start from scratch – that’s the latest chapter in the Fine Dutch Tradition.

In the 21st century, Hooimeijer expects the Tradition to develop new solutions for water in the city. Extensive building into the surrounding polders will have to make a place for renewal within.


While wandering around Delft, it’s hard to miss the many dumpsters and trash bins behind buildings, shops, malls, markets and on construction sites. These containers are wonderful sources of precious materials that dumpster diving students can use to help keep more of their incredibly shrinking budgets in their pockets.

Dumpster diving is the term for sifting through commercial or residential trash to find useful items that have been discarded by their owners. For many people, dumpster diving (or ‘skipping’ in the UK) might seem like something dirty, non-ethical or illegal. This article will hopefully vaporize such prejudices and open a door into a brave new world of eco-friendly-recycling behavior and direct monetary savings.

The term ‘dumpster diving’ originates from the name of a US company, Dempsey, which created their own brand of trash bins, called ‘dumpsters’, but nowadays dumpster diving has many other names, including bin-diving, containering, D-mart, dumpstering, tatting, binning or ‘recycled food’. Moreover, there are several factions among dumpster divers: rag’n’bone men, waste pickers, junk men, and bin hokers, who sort and trade trash; freegans, who claim to avoid making an ecological impact by living exclusively from dumpster-dived goods; and skippers, who uses trash as a source of entertainment or survival.

All factions however address the ecological and economic issues underpinning the resource scarcity problem; for example, food – after transport and housing – accounts for the greatest share of environmental impact – over 50 percent in the Netherlands. Food generates CO2 emissions, uses energy and water, and requires long-haul transport and extensive waste processing. Annually, Dutch consumers throw away 8 to 11 percent of the food they buy, or approximately 50kg per person. If food isn’t consumed, the impact on the environment is unnecessary and conflicts with our values and (shared) responsibility for our planet.

Skipping, however, as an action of reuse and consumption of food, levels the environmental impact, indirectly redistributes monetary and food losses within society and directly influences the monetary expenditures of the skippers = us. (This author cut his monthly food expenditures down to €20 by skipping.) In a recent article in The Globe and Mail, a Canadian national newspaper, focusing on ways for students to survive on low budgets, dumpster diving was cited as a great way to get food that grocery stores and restaurants have thrown out, with one commentator adding that it’s also “particularly fun to do on the way home from boozing.”

Kuro5hin, a culture and technology site, offers a handy guide to ‘the excellent world of dumpster diving’, likening it to fishing, because dumpster diving is ‘relaxed, follows seasonal trends and localisations’, and ‘may just leave you with something interesting or tasty’. The guide advises new divers to: bring a light, as dumpsters are usually dark inside; wear sturdy clothing, shoes and gloves, because dumpsters often contain broken glass and strange chemicals; and bring a prodding stick, for sifting through the trash and junk. For dedicated dumpster divers, opening a dumpster is like Christmas: you never know what you’ll find inside the present box, such as electronic equipment, food under or just slightly over its sell-by date; construction materials, paints, flowers, toys, books, clothes… even musical equipment – a friend once found a 30-year old German analog amplifier in perfect working condition. From a policy point of view, skipping per se is legal, except in cases when dumpsters are situated on private property and diving is thus considered thievery. One should also avoid diving into dumpsters that contain confidential documents. But otherwise, there’s no threat, although occasionally you’ll have to explain what you’re doing to passersby and employees. Nevertheless, you know why you’re skipping, so don’t be ashamed or scared. To evade such discussions, most ‘professional’ skippers dive in the early morning or at night, and don’t skip for longer than 15 minutes per dumpster.

Skipping offers valuable environmental and economic benefits, as well as another important one: the personal improvement you’ll gain through changing from linear thinking to circular. There are lots of reasons to dumpster dive, so pick one and enjoy the gifts you’ll find.

Maxim Amosov, from Siberia, is a recent MSc graduate in Urban Environmental Management.

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