“Lack of space for years”

The brass band, cooking with the neighbours, playing sports together: those who would like to do something good for the neighborhood find less and less lodging in the increasingly expensive city. Initiatives looking for space report to the municipality every week. Shame, because a city where everything costs money puts many residents on the sidelines.

Anna Harter

There’s no usable kitchen in the modest space on Dapperplein, but volunteers at the Prachtvrouw Foundation don’t let that stop them. They push some tables together, put baking trays on them and get to work: very few full-fledged Moroccan pies have to be baked. Tonight 25 women will receive information about healthy food and then a meal.

It is one of the many activities that the Brachtfro Foundation organizes for vulnerable women in the region. A selection: flexibility training, sports, language lessons, help applying for jobs, and lessons in the vegetable garden. Originally, Prachtvrouw mainly assisted Moroccan women, but now this group is much more diverse.

These activities are practiced relentlessly, by a total of about sixty women each week. However, it is difficult for the establishment to survive in the city. Since their founding in 2018, they’ve been jumping from anti-squat to anti-squat. Here at Dapperplein they have mice, problems with lighting, ventilation not working properly and wiring bad. Like the four times before, Habiba Bouanane’s foundation could receive a phone call asking her to leave at any moment. Then she has two weeks to find something new.

Wires in the squat on Dapperplein.  Statue of Mariette Dingman

Wires in the squat on Dapperplein.Statue of Mariette Dingman

Peel around the cases

This puts Prachtvrouw in a growing company: social initiatives are finding it increasingly difficult to find a permanent place in the city. These are residents’ institutions and organizations that are committed to the local population and have no profit motive. They form a shell around bodies that offer formal aid programs and are usually there for vulnerable groups of Amsterdammers who find it difficult to connect elsewhere, or who don’t know how to find their way there.

These places often have a temporary lease and must leave at some point because that expires, or they have to make room for new construction. Alternatives generally demand unaffordable high rent for these initiatives. The municipality is willing and regularly contributes to a solution, but there is simply not enough space for everyone.

Examples abound. The Gered Gereedschap in the East, where rejected people and refugees, among others, repair tools and then donate them to third world countries, will soon have to leave because construction will begin. Maranatha African Church in the Southeast, where a hundred schoolchildren eat breakfast twice a week, also had to look for something new, but were allowed to stay a year longer at the last minute. The Caribbean brass band Ritmo, which has kept dozens of young people off the streets of Zuidoost since 2018, has not found a new location and has not had a meeting place or rehearsal space since March 1.

A meeting for vulnerable women in the Beautiful Woman Foundation.  Statue of Mariette Dingman

A meeting for vulnerable women in the Beautiful Woman Foundation.Statue of Mariette Dingman


Another one: Second Chance Foundation in the East. Once a week, the owner, Muhammad Taqi, supplies more than eighty families with a package of food and, to pay for it, runs a thrift store. Until recently, he was doing this at Wenckebachweg 53, where he was able to sublease a space belonging to a driving school. When I left that driving school, that was also the end of the story for him. At the last minute he was able to move into an empty building down the street, but the question was for how long.

The unknown situation makes him tense, because Taqi cannot bear the thought of abandoning the families he helps, nor all the other people he turns to: asylum seekers from the neighborhood who come to get leftovers after a food distribution, but also locals who come to drink a cup of coffee in the morning. And blow their hearts out.

Every week, social organizations that cannot find affordable space apply to the municipality, according to a council letter published last week, and there are more and more. The municipality does not have an overview of how many organizations are looking at the total, but the local councilors involved acknowledged in the letter that “the affordability of social real estate in the city is under pressure”.

blank image

This council letter was in response to questions from council member Bastien Minderhood (PvdA), who is concerned about the situation. Like earlier this month at Parole I stood up: the sense of home, the feeling of a social neighborhood, is fading more and more in Amsterdam. Especially in neighborhoods where new homes are being built and the make-up of the neighborhood is changing, the most vulnerable residents are increasingly reporting to the city council because they feel that improvements in their neighborhood primarily benefit the newly affluent residents, while their facilities are fading away. ”

Minderhood stresses that the municipality does a lot for social initiatives and to some extent provides space for them. But he believes that supply must be responded to better, first by properly identifying all the initiatives that are in place. This has yet to be implemented, according to the council’s letter: “The municipality does not have a centralized overview of incoming applications.” It is also not known how many square meters are allocated to social organizations in the city, because not all zoning plans have been digitized.

The pressure on the city has increased in recent years, says urban geographer Wouter van Gent, who is affiliated with the University of Amsterdam. Simply put, there are fewer “left” places where social initiatives can establish themselves. “About twenty years ago you could always find an industrial area for something like that, an interstate place, or an old parking garage in Bijlmer. This space is running out in the municipality.”

blank image

Muziekcentrum Zuidoost also started in a former parking garage in Bijlmer, says manager Marco de Souza. After visiting various locations, the center is now housed in an old office building in the southeast, but the location is not ideal. “We have been short on space for years, and all our classrooms are very small. Rhythm lessons are not possible here because of the poor insulation.”

Among others, Leerorkest has emerged from Muziekcentrum, which makes music lessons more accessible to thousands of Amsterdam children in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. “They miss out on a lot of what the cultural sector in Amsterdam has to offer,” says de Souza. “Regular Show is too expensive for them. It is precisely these children that you really want a quality education for. If that fails, it ultimately translates into an opportunity for children to develop themselves.”

This also applies to the members of Zuidoost’s Ritmo Brass Band. Until recently they had an old post office in Amsterdamse Poort on loan, but the contract has expired. They are now homeless and everything has stopped, says Januel Rosina, the conductor of the band. With his band, he keeps sixty mostly young men off the streets, because as he says, “that’s often all they have”. He keeps them on track, he says, through shows and by giving them jobs within the band. “This way they also learn about leadership, building discipline, and maintaining agreements with each other.”

null Statue of Mariette Dingman

Statue of Mariette Dingman

work and consumption

Van Gent notes that these types of facilities rank lower on the municipality’s list of priorities, in part because of the housing crisis. “In the 1980s, a lot of thought was given to social services. Take the renovation of Spaarndammerbuurt at that time, where space was made for playgrounds, community centres, library, sports facilities and a nursing home. Now the focus is on restaurants, shops and flexible workspaces. Rent can be charged for that and so It makes money.”

According to him, social spaces are important to urban life because they involve more than just work and consumption. They are places of social and cultural exchange. They bind resident groups and also take people out of their usual circles. Not everyone can or wants to sit in a coffee shop and drink expensive coffee.

Minderhood agrees. “The beer at Bar Bukowski is completely out of reach for certain groups in Amsterdam. If the places they can go disappear, they have nowhere to go.”

Van Gent stresses that the availability of social facilities is not only important for the vulnerable. “It’s much broader than that. Cultural institutions, breeding grounds, swimming pools and parks are, for example, in the same boat. And all kinds of Amsterdammers benefit from that.”

See also  The VVD Youth Branch believes that the municipality should organize King's Day parties

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *