Issue #019 Published: 27-07-2018 // Written by: Jorge DS

Bajesdorp: An ever-changing place

Next to the old Bijlmerbajes, the former prison in the east of the city, in Watergraafsmeer, lies one of the last squats of the city. The village known as Bajesdorp has been squatted since 2003 and has become an iconic place for its festival, community center, and other initiatives. The area was recently bought by a real-estate developer, and Bajesdorp is now under threat. Still, people of the community haven’t given up and are continuing with Bajesdorp’s projects and the free space for themselves and the city. They have even developed a new initiative: Bajesdorp 2020.

Bajesdorp now

The group living in Bajesdorp is a complex of eighteen multi-ideological beautiful people from many different backgrounds. You find Latin translators, boat skippers, industrial climbers, musicians, entrepreneurs and social workers, all of them sharing the idea of living in a community and creating communal free spaces for the city. In order to do this, the group has developed several spaces and projects inside and outside the village. Some of these initiatives may be familiar to many of us, but others are less known and yet really cool.

One of the most well-known spaces is Buurtcentrum de Muiterij, where weekly activities take place. For instance, one can attend the language café on Mondays to learn Dutch in a socially integrative way with other people, or you can drop by on Tuesdays and enjoy a voku dinner while listening to a musical performance. People can also participate in the recently introduced sketch nights to draw together with others devoted to graphics and visual arts. The Muiterij also has a fully equipped print screening studio, where you can bring your frames and print them. 

One of the most important aspects of the Muiterij is that it connects the people in Bajesdorp and allows them to get involved in the projects of the village. It is also the place where people who don’t live there can visit and join in these activities and projects. According to Annastina and Inès, two of the people living in Bajesdorp, the center is essential because it is a communal, neutral place where people of the village can invite others without disturbing anybody. Moreover, it is the place where the work groups and the General Assembly hold their meetings. According to them, this place is crucial for the well-functioning of the community.

In addition to the Muiterij, Bajesdorp has a communal garden project with flowers, herbs, tomatoes, basil, peppers, green beans, pears, raspberries, strawberries and potatoes, which are all grown by the inhabitants. One of them created a compost initiative for the neighbourhood and received an award from the municipality for it.

This garden also serves to integrate the village with people living in the surroundings. One can often find neighbours chilling and enjoying a green space in the middle of the semi-industrial area. Also people from the offices next to the Bajesdorp go there to eat lunch, and others passing by just sit there sometimes to have a minute of relaxation. 

The ‘artivist residency’ is another creative initiative by Bajesdorp. It allows the artist to stay there and focus on his or her artistic work. Someone in the village proposes inviting an artist or the artivist himself or herself sends an email. Someone from Bajesdorp then takes care of the arrangements and the practical details. 

Apart from the community centre with its initiatives and facilities, and the communal garden with its nature space, Bajesdorp also includes less-known spaces. Among these are a movable sauna, a hot-tub and a romantic tree-house for guests. All of these play an essential role in establishing bonds between the community and its visitors. 

In the past, the Bajesdorp community has organized different recreational and political events. One of them is the ‘Rond de Bajes’, a bicycle race around the old jail that takes place every year. In previous races, some participants brought their simple old bikes while others showed up all equipped with their professional racing bicycles. Another sports event organized by Bajesdorp was the WBW Streetball Cup, a ping-pong and basketball tournament. 

Bajesdorp also organized and hosted political events like the recent Food Autonomy Festival and some events supporting refugees. In part, the aim of organizing recreational and political activities is to create a space for supporting freedom, a sense of community and ideals of solidarity.

Apart from the activities organized by the villagers, people not living there can also use the communal spaces of Bajesdorp for projects that suit the spirit of the community. A group of neighbour students, for example, recently started a new initiative in which they meet once a month with asylum seekers to help them to integrate into the sometimes complicated Dutch society.

Ideologically speaking Bajesdorp consists of different shapes and flavours. You can see this during Bajesdorp Festival: while one house plays reggae, another plays hard punk. “We are a mix of punk and bourgeois”, the inhabitants joking describe themselves. However, and more seriously, they agree that their different ideologies evolve around one organizing principle: living in a community. According to the inhabitants, one shared political ideal by the people living in Bajesdorp is that the city needs affordable places to live. In this regard, Bajesdorp’s future project aims to perpetuate this ideal. 

Bajesdorp, like other free and politically active spaces in Amsterdam, has a lot to offer, not only to the alternative community or the people living in those spaces but to its neighbourhoods. These places are crucial to the city because they are epicenters of creation, discussion, integration, freedom and community. However, this does not seem to satisfy many people who follow a different way of thinking, like the logic of the neoliberal market. 

Despite the gentrifying hydra being at the gate of many free spaces in Amsterdam, the struggle to keep these spaces alive is by no means lost. Bajesdorp, like many other initiatives, is an example of resistance, an attempt to keep these spaces alive and kicking. In defiance of the possibility of being evicted and ultimately losing the space, the people in the village are now harvesting the fruits of their resistance with Bajesdorp 2020.

Bajesdorp 2020
The community of Bajesdorp is lively and ever-changing. People come and go; new input, new ideas and skills are added to the community; people add their energy and leave the collective-living space. There are inhabitants who want to move on from Bajesdorp, inhabitants who want to keep the village the way it is as long as possible, and inhabitants who want to continue with it as a legalized project: Bajesdorp 2020. 

In the summer of 2016, Bijlmerbajes prison was shut down. The whole area, including the six towers and Bajesdorp, was put on the market to be sold at the highest bid and the best development plan. Ten private developers submitted their proposals. Although people of Bajesdorp fought to get the chance to buy and develop their own place, the whole area was sold to real-estate developer AM in the end.

Under the name Bajeskwartier, AM works together with AT Capital, Cairn and the designers OMA, FABRICations and LOLA Landscape to transform the site into a new residential area. As soon as AM bought the place, it announced the demolition of the houses in Bajesdorp, including the Muiterij. People from Bajesdorp protested against this; however, the National Government and the Municipality of Amsterdam approved the transformation plans. The demolition, as it was announced by the real-state developer, will take place in two stages: one in September of this year and the second in February 2019.

Taking this scenario as a starting point, the Bajesdorp people worked on a plan to buy the adjacent piece of land and to develop Bajesdorp 2020, a new alternative working-living village. On this piece of land, they aim to host 25-40 people by 2020. At this moment negotiations with AM about this are ongoing. A decision about the price must be reached by this summer.

With Bajesdorp 2020, the founders want to create a place based on the principles of the existing Bajesdorp: a solidarity-based, social, creative and sustainable living space. The project was inspired by the German Mietshäusersyndikat, which collaborates with housing communities to create living-working housing spaces. This organization offers a theoretical structure for taking houses out of the capital market. The core of this model is to acquire homes collectively in order to create affordable, self-sustained spaces to live in.

To implement the German Mietshäusersyndikat model in the Netherlands, people from Bajesdorp and some other residential groups in Amsterdam founded the Dutch VrijCoop, the first umbrella organization for solidarity housing cooperatives in the Netherlands.

The mission of VrijCoop is to generate affordable social housing within. It works as follows. A group of people living together or who want to live together form an association or a cooperative (like Bajesdorp) and join VrijCoop. Then the group buys or builds a building, of which not the individuals but the organization becomes the owner. Juridically, no contract can prohibit the inhabitants from selling the building, but VrijCoop always has the right to veto upon sale, which implies that the site and the buildings can never be sold. By removing estates and houses from the capital market in this way, this initiative directly counters speculation, one of the leading causes of non-affordable housing.

Besides generating affordable, community-based spaces to live, the second objective of Bajesdorp 2020 is sustainability. The project aims at being as sustainable and energy-neutral as possible. Bajesdorp 2020 also seeks to function as a laboratory to test innovative ideas relating to sustainability, which can be implemented in the rest of the neighbourhood if they prove successful. 

Bajesdorp Festival 2018
Every summer Bajesdorpers host their festival. This year will be a special edition because it will be the stepping stone and transition between the current Bajesdorp and Bajesdorp 2020. Apart from offering space to have a good time, the festival will provide information about the crowdfunding campaign which is part of the complex financing plan of the new Bajesdorp initiative. Also, people can find information on the crowdfunding campaign on the Bajesdorp website. Don’t miss it!  

For more information:
Bajesdorp festival info

Illustration: Savvas Kopidis