On October 28, dozens of demonstrators gathered in the Red Light District to protest against Amsterdam’s housing shortage, the sell-out of alternative cultural places and the city’s massive gentrification. The protest ended with the occupation of a building in Oudekerksplein.
Michael (an alias, as the interviewee prefers to remain anonymous) has lived in the building since its occupation. He works three jobs, as an employee in a restaurant, as a house painter, and as a music teacher, yet he still can’t afford Amsterdam’s rent prices. Max (an alias as well) works for a delivery company. He also does not earn enough money to rent a room. The two of them are now living in the building in Oudekerksplein with two other friends. “There is no house, and if there is, it is too expensive,” explained Michael. Social housing is not a viable solution either. “There are waiting lists of fifteen years.”
The choice of occupying a building in the city center was not accidental. The action aimed at protesting against mass tourism and city gentrification. For Michael, the city is out of the control of its inhabitants. “As an Amsterdammer, I never come here because there are so many tourists. But it is a beautiful area. It should be reclaimed by its citizens.”
In the early 2000s, the occupied building used to be a brothel. In 2007, Amsterdam municipality launched Project 1012 (after the area’s postal code), aiming at fighting criminal activities in the city center. Back then, many windows in the Red Light District were closed. The municipality planned to renovate former brothels and sell them to third parties. However, because of the economic crisis in 2008, it was not able to allocate money to renovations. Many buildings in the area have been empty ever since.
The choice of occupying a building owned by the municipality was not accidental either. Despite mayor Femke Halsema’s positive rhetoric towards diversity and alternative cultures, the nominally leftwing City Board recently announced the eviction of ADM, the Netherlands’ largest squatted community on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The official reason for this eviction is that the owners of the ADM land wished to regain it. In the case of the Oudekerksplein building, there is no conflict with a third party. “The leftwing city council says that they want to have free spaces,” said Max. “We are interested in how they will react. If it was a private owner, then they could say that they have no choice. But now it is their choice to do an eviction or not.” The occupiers also expressed solidarity towards the ADM case.
The occupiers’ plan is to create a space for alternative culture in the city center. While the first and second floors are used for housing, the ground floor has become a cultural space for the neighborhood, hosting free movie screenings, food nights, music and jam sessions every Friday night.
Neighbors expressed positive feelings about the occupation. Katia (also an alias) is a former sex worker, now working at the Prostitution Information Center in Oudekerksplein. “The building has been empty for many years. It is a good thing that it is being used now,” she said. Katia also explained that many Amsterdammers living or working in the Red Light District are tired of drunken tourists’ misbehavior. “In the last 10 to 15 years it has become too much.”
On December 15, a demonstration is planned. Starting from Jonas Daniël Meijerplein, the participants are going to march through the city to protest against Amsterdam’s gentrification and the sell-out of public and cultural spaces. Michael, Max and the other occupiers are likely to be among the faces present there as well.