Housing and Public Space
Amsterdam is a grand success. With one big problem: Housing. Too expensive, too scarce, too unequal, too unsustainable, too few homes for families, too few starter homes, etc. etc. Sustainable solutions demand a turnaround in the way we think. Current concepts have turned the city into a battlefield and are not fair to Amsterdammers.
We should conceive of a different, more just and democratic city ‘for all’. In ‘the right to the city’, the wants and needs of all residents are made to count, not just those of a privileged class of professionals and property tycoons. In such a vision, housing and public spaces – physical, political, cultural, digital – count as basic human needs, not as commercially tradable goods. And city residents are at the table where the decisions are being made.
The diversity of Amsterdam’s residents is barely reflected in the design, planning, building and revamping of the city. On the contrary, the city has been turned into an orderly, homogenous space with coffee bars, yoga studios and shipyards turned offices. With an ever-widening gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged. Cities like London, Paris, Vancouver and New York share similar processes of marginalisation and exclusion.
Changing the rules & regulations
The housing crisis is a recurring topic of conversation. And it is possible: equitable, affordable, accessible housing in Amsterdam, in inclusive and climate-neutral neighbourhoods, including for people with low incomes, offering a safe place to live for vulnerable teens, the elderly, homeless and undocumented people, and collective forms of living and working. This requires that we no longer look at housing as a market, as this will only ensure we keep approaching housing through a commercial lens. ‘The market’ as a system seeks the highest returns on scarce goods – in this case, land, buildings and houses – instead of prioritising the wellbeing of residents and their basic rights, including housing.
The city as a resource
The ‘right to the city’ promotes a way of thinking, speaking and policy-making which prioritises residents and users. It’s not a quick fix, or simply ensuring room for diversity, but a comprehensive vision of the city as a resource for a dignified existence for everyone. In practical terms: every policy must put the needs of local districts, neighbourhoods and residents first. Residents are invited to the table where the decisions are being made – as they are the ones living there. This requires a far-reaching democratisation. And an active local and national government which looks beyond spreadsheets and residential neighbourhoods as a business case.