Wastelands in Amsterdam

30 Jul 2011 | - Amsterdam, The Netherlands

An artist-friend coming from Geneva, Christophe Meierhans, was living in Amsterdam for a while throughout his studies. He describes the Dutch landscape as the following: „The Netherlands is one of the most cultivated countries in the world. Every little creek is a canal and every piece of land is a dyke. And it all stays under protection.“ Well, I think he is right. Besides that, the Netherlands is the highest populated country in Europe. I am wondering how the consciousness is influenced by the use of public ground. Is it different then for instance in Germany, where I am coming from? If a community always had to wrest the ground from the sea, does it become more precious in the minds of the people?

After a year in Amsterdam I am forced to affirm this. Nowadays this beautiful city with its high living standard but also its anarchic image from the past is so incredible well organized. Everything is nearly a bit overprotected. Amsterdam’s public ground remains in the hand of the city. Its inhabitants and company’s can lease it for a period, they can build on it, but they can never own it. Hamburg for instance, where I lived a few years before coming to Amsterdam, decided under its conservative government to sell lots of public ground to private investors who had bidding the highest.

However, this strong protection in Amsterdam also takes it toll. It is not easy to be surprised in Amsterdam by new spaces, because available free space stays very rare. And so are wastelands. Because of the construction of a new metro line and several larger developments, the whole city looks like it’s under construction. Still urban temporary empty spaces are quite hard to find. We found three that are of interest for us.  Also the process of gentrification has on the one hand the same results of social marginalization like everywhere (very visible in the Jordaan neighbourhood where I live). On the other hand the level of attendance to plan (and develop) the city or let it be planned (and developed) is palpable a different one then I knew before. Maybe that’s because the level of participation has always been a different one. The Dutch society is based on so the called “poldermodel”, which means the search for consensus in the dialogue between organized interest groups and government organizations. A “Polder” is a piece of flat land that is protected by levees from the surrounding water. About half of the polder area of Europe is located in the Netherlands). The verb “Polderen” is also used for a general willing to negotiate a compromise.

Khadija and I finally chose to contribute to wasteland twinning. The research on the wasteland “Het Stenen Hoofd” seems to be a good and advanced example for this participation but perhaps also for an ongoing twist. The management of this nice little peninsula in the IJ canal was in the hand of a foundation for years and will fall back into the hands of the City in 2012.

Tim W139 from Amsterdam

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