Issue #020 Published: 25-09-2018 // Written by: Dimitris Dalakoglou

Another small death of Amsterdam

I have been studying Amsterdam ethnographically since 2015 and have witnessed our city undergoing a huge transformation over the past two decades. While some prefer to ignore it, the city is quickly changing into a generic “global city”, losing its character, particularities, and liveliness. This process, which includes phenomena like the occupation of Amsterdam’s green and open spaces by skyscrapers (such as in Zuid), the transformation of our historical libraries into hotels owned by multinational companies, and the closure and repression of squats like ADM, is killing Amsterdam’s vitality.

Recent building developments, for example in Zuid and around Amstel station, could be in any city in the world. These developments share very little (spatially and socially) with their surroundings. Meanwhile, policymakers promote the mass private ownership of housing and the financialisation of housing and the built environment via the facilitation of private mortgages, exposing housing to the financial sector’s and big business’ manipulations. Gradually, in Amsterdam, low and middle income people, small independent businesses, independent artists and creators, community organizers, activists and squatters, ethnic minorities and other social groups who have collectively made Amsterdam the unique city that it is today, are relocated further and further from the core of the city. They are replaced by a homogenous group of high income people who participate little and contribute less in the collective life of the city, apart from in specific, mostly commercial and relatively exclusive, enclaves.

Amsterdam’s attraction and allure as a progressive city, with an alternative and diverse everyday life, is precisely based on the social activities of all the segroups who are now are under cultural attack. The social bonds that were created after decades of conviviality, common existence and daily activities that constituted Amsterdam are being systematically evicted from the city as Airbnb, real estate brokers and mortgage officers control the real estate of the city which has become an empty facade of itself. The irony here is that the commodification of the buildings, while raising the financial value of the real estate, also destroys the real value and spirit of the city. 

ADM and other autonomous spaces have played a crucial role in embodying an alternative Amsterdam for over two decades now. If ADM is evicted, it will mean the end of a large community of people who have brought a plethora of social, cultural and political activities to the site that had a substantial effect on the life of the city as well. We’ve seen it already happening in other cases in Amsterdam where squats were forced out and replaced by sanitized commercial operations or the  pretentiousness of public engagement (which is often a mere exercise in social exclusion and an assassination of diversity).

For decades, Amsterdam has organised great parts of its collective life around places like ADM and their closure will mean the end of these networks. We all have an obligation to defend ADM by any means available. Defending ADM means defending an icon of our beautifully diverse city that is increasingly lost to commercialisation, real estate manipulation and displacement of its people. Loosing ADM would mean another small death of Amsterdam.

Dimitris Dalakoglou is a professor of Social Anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam with an emphasis on infrastructures and urban politics. He is a member of the editorial board of ‘City’, a prominent academic journal in urban studies.