New land from the sea provides room for housing

As they have been doing in Dutch restaurants for hundreds of years, the tables in the Bruin Cafe in Almere are not covered by tablecloths, but by small, thick rugs.

But while it follows an ancient tradition, this cafe did not exist a few years ago. And six years ago, Almere did not exits. In fact, 20 years ago the land on which Almere is located didn't exist either.

About 12 miles east of Amsterdam, Almere is one of several new towns being built in the Netherlands on land reclaimed from the sea.

Almere is at the southwestern end of an oval-shaped piece of land known as the Flevoland. This 231-square-mile area was started some 30 years ago, when a dike was built in the Zuider Zee, a large bay that had been cut off from the North Sea by another dike in 1918. The Zuider Zee is now known as the Ijsselmeer.

The concept behind reclaiming areas like the Flevoland is fairly simple, says W. A. Lammers, burgomaster (similar to a mayor) for the town of Almere. "You just build a dike and pump the water out."

This was one way those familiar Dutch windmills were used when Holland started reclaiming land 400 to 500 years ago. A succession of windmills pushed the water to higher and higher levels until it poured over the kikes and out to sea, leaving the former seabed as the new land area. This process sometimes stook several decades to clear a few square miles. Today, however, massive electric pumps are used and an area the size of the Flevoland can be cleared of water in 10 to 15 years, "depending on how much money you want to spend."

In the past, Mr. Lammers says, the Dutch reclaimed land to provide more farming areas, "and to keep out the sea." As a result, he estimates, about one-third of the Netherlands is reclaimed land. The Dutch still need room for housing as much as they need farmland, and much of the reclaimed areas are meant to provide places for people to live.

With more than 14 million people, mostly concentrated in the cities in the western part of the country, the Netherlands needs more room for its growing population. It also needs to preserve much rich farmland as possible.

Thus, new land areas -- or "polders" -- like the Flevoland and new towns like Almere are seen as population safety valves for cities like Amsterdam, whose 1.2 million inhabitants are straining housing and services.

There are about 15,000 people living in the town of Almere today, Mr. Lammers says. By the year 2000, he expects the city of Almere to have some 250,000 residents. In addition, the Flevoland polder is also sprouting two other new towns, Nieuweland, which will house about 100,000 by the end of the century; and Zeewolde, where some 25,000 will live.

Like many Dutch towns built on reclaimed land, Almere actually lies below sea level, in this case, about 20 feet below.

But almere is not being built just for housing, Mr. Lammers notes. He and other town officials are also trying to attract as many "clean" industries as they can. One such firm he is trying to convince to move to Almere manufactures precision machinery for making computer parts.

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