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Amsterdam’s newest neighborhood fears ‘white flight’

DutchAmsterdam.nl — A growing number of people who live in IJburg, Amsterdam’s newest neighborhood, are dissatisfied with the livability of their district.

They complain about nuisance caused by bored youths, break-ins, threats and violence.

Others cite the lack of adequate schools and childcare facilities. Yet others complain about the lengthy traffic jams on the neighborhood’s main connecting street with the rest of the city.

IJburg, Amsterdam’s newest neighborhood

IJburg, part of the Zeeburg borough, was built on a series of 6 artificial islands in the IJ estuary, just north-east of Amsterdam’s city center. The neighborhood, much of which is still under construction, currently is home to some 12.000 people. When complete, IJburg will have 18,000 homes for 45,000 residents and should also include employment for 12,000 people.

The neighborhood includes shops and leisure facilities as well as a popular ‘city beach.’

Few tourist visit IJburg, in large part because its stark, straight-angled, boxy buildings make for an area that stands in stark contrast to Amsterdam’s historic city center and other neighborhoods.

IJburg was designed to house a mixture of people from all layers of society. Posh, million-and-a-half Euro villas stand amidst homes sold for EUR 300.000 as well as social rental property.

First citizens had a ‘village feeling’

Police team leader Bert Vagevuur explains that when the first few thousand people moved into the neighborhood they had a ‘village feeling,’ “as if it were a camping.” They knew each other, and did not lock their doors or bikes.

“The first time a bike got stolen it was big news,” Vagevuur says. “Now the citizens of IJburg will have to get used to the fact that their neighborhood is turning into a big city.”

Many of the newcomers at IJburg come from older parts of Amsterdam — most of them ‘forced’ to leave their old homes in older district in which entire neighborhoods are being razed and renovated. Faced with a dearth of available houses elsewhere in the city, many selected IJburg instad.

A lot of them now miss the liveliness of their old neighborhoods, where they could walk to the local bakery, brown café, street market or butcher — whereas at IJburg they now have to traverse long, virtually deserted streets to reach a soulless shopping center.

On the other hand, there are also those who prefer the straight, clean lines of IJburg’s architecture to to often frivolously adored buildings elsewhere in the city.

The rich complain

In local newspaper Het Parool someone who does enjoy living in IJburg fingers ‘white bitches’ as the main complainers. They came here thinking they could invest in a house, free and clear, in a white neighborhood, the man says. “They feel a kind of entitlement, as in ‘this is my island.’ So if they see a tramp they shoo him off.” But if you ask them whether they have experienced any nuisance themselves you’ll discover it all happened to someone they know.

One real estate company’s impression of IJburg

Youth workers in the area say it is especially the higher-educated people who complain. One tells Het Parool, “six people from block 25 approached me because youths had thrown bicycles in the canal, and had peed in porches.” The paper does not report how the youth workers reacted to those complaints, but does cite one of them as saying that she heard from two realtors that things are going wrong.

“IJburg is beginning to get a bad name,” she said. “Some people already compare it to the Bijlmer,” referring to a south-east Amsterdam neighborhood that, until its recent renovation, had become notorious as a high-crime, no-go area.

One lesson learned in the Bijlmer — and which seems to not have made it to the designers of IJburg — is that building a neighborhood of huge, impersonal high-rise buildings is asking for trouble.

The Bijlmer also became the go-to place for large groups of foreign immigrants, many of whom behaved in such a way that countless Caucasians chose to leave the neighborhood.

A white enclave

An IJburg shop owner tells Het Parool that project developers sold IJburg by promising a neighborhood of exclusive homes. “People expected a quiet neighborhood — a white enclave on a beautiful islan with sun, sea, and beach. At the beginning it was indeed like that, but when social housing projects appeared people felt they had been taken for a ride.”

Another local adds that people who expected an all-white, all-rich environment “must not have read the brochure all the way to the end.”

Alderman Dennis Straat, of Zeeburg, is worried about the developments. “If we create the notion of a second Bijlmer that would be a downward spiral which can hardly be turned around.”

However, he too has heard of a ‘white flight.’ “I’m extremely worried about that,” Straat says. “I do get signals from people who are contemplating moving elsewhere.”

Did citizens allow themselves to be enticed by the ideals pictured in brochures and artist impressions, Het Parool asks?

Straat answers, “It remains a beautiful island to live on, but those people who are now contemplating leaving appear to experience IJburg differently.”

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