Today the subway in Amsterdam opens again after being closed for six weeks because of an administrative mistake. This is NO joke, this is the infamous world village of Amsterdam. Working on a tramway or railway or whatever way in this muddy village most often results in closing off for what seems to be an unlimited time, whatever traffic passage may be concerned. The contract with the building firm that was at the basis of the decision to close down the metro for six weeks, was refuted because terms could not be met, but nevertheless the subway was closed down, because as a spokesman said the subway drivers all had been send already with holidays… This left me wondering about the sublime working conditions: 6 weeks in one go? As this is a segregated city – though in full denial of the fact – it is “only” the predominant ‘non-wester-allochtones’ suffered (sorry for the Dutch Apartheid vocabulary, you may need to check Wikpedia for this) that especially need to travel back & forward from the suburban Bijlmer-ghetto to the inner city.
It is (only) thanks to the upcoming SAIL tourist event – where eager entrepreneurs hope to welcome a million extra clients – that the wind will blow some life into the subterranean public transport system. The photograph above shows a clumsy sign at one of the entrances of the subway system at the Central Station. At the most central Waterlooplein subway station that can be seen from my window there was NO sign whatsoever about why the doors were closed, till when and how to get to the Bijlmer-ghetto from here…
Also during six weeks we did not have early morning transport from the centre of town to the main railway station on saturdays and sundays. So I have seen bunches of desperate tourists wandering around in panic because they needed to be at the airport in time and were expecting regular public transport running around seven in the morning, but found the village of Amsterdam still sleeping… tram conductors still not on the road… HAPPY taxidrivers… that is the sunny side of it all. Also this planning mistake has meant some extra income for Polish bus drivers that are usually temporally employed to drive the busses that supply an alternative connection for the closed metro, but do take a completely different route.
I remember now calling the ‘public transport’ information number to find out where these alternative bus stops actually were – because the map on the internet had only big fat lines on a too small scale to discern actual bus stop indications) even the very friendly help desk person was not able to tell me where exactly this bus could be taken in the area around the Waterlooplein. One does not catch an airplane by wandering the streets in the hope to catch a bus and see it race by….
A “segregated city” I said, so let me try to show how this translates into a map for the case of the Bijlmermeer suburb build in the early sixties, conceived in the fifties as an ulimate pure example of the ideas of the CIAM (Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne) with their separation of functions: living, working, recreation, traffic. Later in the eighties and nineties the urban concept has been remoulded into amore classic integrated street model with rows of suburban houses. Maybe the red arrows in the map below should be just blue… as the inhabitants of the Bijlmermeer are commuting on a daily basis to the inner town. The inhabitants of the inner town on the other hand hardly ever will go to the Bijlmermeer.
I have used the word ‘ghetto‘ in the opening paragraph on purpose and in the correct way, it’s common definition being: “an overcrowded urban area often associated with a specific ethnic or racial population; especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure.” Historically speaking the word associates with inner-city areas, but with the expansion of cities and the higher levels of mobility and immigration, the same phenomenon can now-a-days also be found in suburban and satellite cities.
The word ghetto in Amsterdam points to dark pages of its history, the establishment of a Jewish ghetto in the inner city of Amsterdam in 1941 by the German occupying authorities with a surprising level of collaboration by the local authorities. The word ‘ghetto’ for certain inner town areas (Jodenhoek) in Amsterdam was locally used before without the connotation of a waiting room for mass murder.
The Bijlmermeer was a satellite city build in ‘a polder’ (former lake) at some distance of Amsterdam proper. The planned inhabitants were upcoming middle class families which would by there supposed climbing of the social ladder move out of their actual small dwellings in a previous generation suburban garden city area at the west side of the city (Westelijke tuinsteden) to the high rise grand surface apartments to enjoy “licht, lucht en ruimte” (light sky and space). This scheme utterly failed because of too high rents and so many of new houses in the Bijlmer stayed empty untill the moment that an sudden influx of migrants from the former Dutch colony of Surinam took possession. At first by squatting, later through an adapted municipal housing distribution system. The standard definition of the word ‘ghetto’ speaks of “social, legal, or economic pressure”, but what should be added, especially in the case of the Bijlmer is the ‘cultural’ element. The recreation of a living atmosphere, protective feelings of togetherness and so on. Though some urban sociology researchers (“Amsterdam human capital” published in 2003 by Sako Musterd and W. G. M. Salet; page 181-) deny that a real social segregation is developing in Amsterdam on the basis of complex statistical models, I from my side have my own daily life observations that make me conclude the opposite. When one takes a very early morning metro/subway of the Bijlmer to the centre of town (Oostlijn) 2/3 of the commuters are mainly black migrants of whatever generation on their way to the less magnificent jobs Dutch society is offering. The last subway crowd the other way also show a predominantly young and black population who after congregating and partying in the inner city go home, which is for many of them the Bijlmer. From my house window I have observed this development for decades which created another kind of statistics in my mind. These notes will lead me to a an exercise in teh future with more scrutiny to test my hypothesis.
Another (yet) primitive attempt to show the segregated inner city of Amsterdam in relation to the suburb the Bijlmermeer, whereby the size of the arrows display quantity… this needs more study and statistic data to gets its form. For the time being here is sketch 2…