The Bond shows solidarity with all protests against the sale of social housing. So is that of July 26 in the Amsterdam Olympiabuurt. Robin van den Berg was present on behalf of the BPW and gave the following speech. The speech can also be seen (partly) in the video below.
Who owns the city?
For those who care: I am a born and raised Amsterdammer. Nearby I went to primary school, the Second Open Air School. I traveled daily with the metro 51, then it was still called the express tram, later with the bus 15, which stops behind it. Some of my classmates lived in this neighborhood. We lived in the Bijlmer. A 'bad neighborhood' for the kids at my school. Probably because a lot of non-white people lived there.
My mother, who was not from here, didn't understand that much and bought a house for 60 thousand guilders. Later she exchanged it for a larger house in the Baarsjes. A neighborhood that didn't have a good name at the time, in the early 1990s. In fact, we were at the forefront of gentrification. My mother worked hard to provide us with perspective, and as an American immigrant had no qualms living near Turks and Moroccans.
I've never been the same as everyone around me, but it didn't matter. Maybe that makes me a typical Amsterdammer. But I don't own it. I never thought the city was mine.
We have always lived here with so many origins, skin colours, cultures and income classes mixed up. When everyone is different, you no longer look for the differences, but for what you share.
I myself have never been so fond of Cruijff, Andre Hazes, Rembrandt, Theo van Gogh, just to name a few dead white men. All those important people have never been more important to me, except perhaps as street names to help me find my way. Ambition to become big like those names, that's what brings people from all over the world to Amsterdam.
I'm not that ambitious myself. I just want a nice life, without too many worries. But we now come to a point where even that seems too much to ask. I would never dare to claim that this piece of land is mine. As far as I'm concerned, the city is big enough for everyone who has something to contribute.
I have met many different kinds of people here. In good and bad situations. Because not everything used to be better. You had crime, poverty, dog shit. It belonged. And it kept the money at bay.
Our tolerant, versatile Amsterdam has gradually made way for something else. Amsterdam as a symbol. The capital of the Netherlands. The Venice of the North, the Las Vegas of Europe. The city where anything goes. A city of illusions.
The illusion that only what is great has a right to exist.
The illusion that you can let your life be guided by ideas such as market forces, progress, efficiency.
The illusion that the city can be summarized in 1 slogan. This way of thinking turns out to be self-fulfilling. There is only 1 Amsterdam left, I Amsterdam.
So we are not just talking about the Olympiabuurt, but also about the van der Pekbuurt, De Kolenkit, De Indischebuurt, and everything that preceded it: De Pijp, De Baarsjes. In the future maybe De Banne, Holendrecht, Zaandam Poelenburg.
From problem district, to opportunity district, to 'emerging' and soon: unaffordable and uninhabited. Ge-air bnb'et, holiday homes for the rich, temporarily rented out to anti-squat agencies until the market is ripe. Turns out that all along it wasn't the neighborhood that was the problem, but the residents. I Amsterdam is a hollow vessel where everyone can contribute.
I Amsterdam a city with a vision for the future. A city full of monumental facades, with law firms behind it. Where tourists take historical tours of the ramparts, where actresses stand behind the windows to play whore. Almost real. Where squatters have been replaced by creative breeding grounds, where you get the chance. The chance to make 'art' that is also a little useful. Graphic design, industrial design, an investment for a wall somewhere on the Zuidas. Where there is plenty of work, but nothing is made. Where people run very fast back and forth, by delivery services, taxis, trend followers. Where everyone networks, but no one shows solidarity or helps friends. Those at the top are served by a flexibly exploitable underclass.
Where local shops have been replaced by chains of major brands. Where companies leave offices empty, and pretend they are located there. Too bad we don't pretend to pay taxes. Where we have a multi-billion dollar metro line that in theory goes from North to South, but in practice from Central Station, via Kalverstraat, to the Heineken Experience. Where politicians say they are doing something about it. Shout out to 'stop the sale'. It sounds beautiful. Almost like 'stop the sale'. But for them, what matters most is that we sell the city at full price, not 50% discount. Quality tourism. Rather Hudson Bay than the Hema, champagne no beer, coke over a joint. Everything is ranked and only the best is good enough. I Amsterdam rises above the polder like a magnificent pyramid of money. Where you only count at the top.
I would like to live in a city where I have something to contribute. But gentrification has taught me that it is better not to invest in your neighbourhood, or in your city. For the vultures smell money, and pluck everything bare. We are slowly living in a desert of money.
And it's your fault that you can't find a home in the city where you grew up. You are sterdam. You should have gotten to the top. You had your chance. And when you then live in North Brabant, you can do your own city marketing all by yourself. Then you say the Amsterdam way: I Was, cock.
Winners, losers. The whole world is a competition and we are going for gold. Amsterdam has gradually turned to gold, and we know the clichés. You can't eat gold, and it's lonely at the top.
My mother now lives alone in her house in De Baarsjes. Now it's worth seven tons. If she's dead later, I'll get half. In the meantime, I have exchanged 17 years of registration time for a social rental home, of 30 square meters, in the Jordaan. So we are lucky, in this free market of free choices.
Now I am faced with such a free choice again: do I want to stay here, so that I can support my old mother, and hope that things get better? Collect a living for a delivery service as an over-aged student? Or do I want a future: living with my girlfriend, having children, working to live, not living to work?
Who owns the city? From anyone with money. I leave.