Amsterdam, a victim of its own success?

by Steve Rickinson



Recent predictions made by Amsterdam’s research, information, and statistic (OIS) bureau believe the city’s population will reach 1 million people by 2032. A stark difference from its “village” mentality, the number comes as the city already reaches record numbers – 873,000 by the end of 2019. The last year Amsterdam saw such a population was 1952 when 872,000 lived within the municipality.

There are additional numbers that attribute to the modern Amsterdam dynamic – locals leaving (45,000, mostly families within 4 year’s of their first child’s birth) and low birth rates included (1.4 in city vs. 1.7 nationally). These numbers may conjure the image of a city shrinking but do not factor in its consistent proliferation of expats, particularly those with high educations and earnings.


The danger comes from outside

“Companies are presented with a very international city, a good financial system, and easy connectivity to major markets,” Woon! representative Gert Jan Bakker says. “This also means thousands of new employees,” he adds.

Erik Flentge, Amsterdam Councilman (SP)

As an international magnet, Amsterdam has received some 25,000 emigrants over the last year, seeing the city’s average population increase at 10,000 annually. With these numbers, questions arise regarding how they may change cultural and socio-economic dynamics within the city. “We grow too fast so the pressure on the market grows along with it, driving up prices,” says Jan Bakker.

Such consequences can be many with much left to ideological interpretation. “Businesses bring both economic and cultural advantages,” Appel says on the possibility of welcoming some 250 UK based corporations post-Brexit, “they allow both direct and indirect employment opportunities”. Yet, as families, lower middle income, and young locals continue to be priced out of the city, the once controllable capital exposes it vulnerability to the same dynamics of economic inaccessibility as London, New York, and San Francisco. “Too often the big companies don’t give a damn about the consequences of their actions,” says Flengte.

The ongoing reality of these dynamics sums up to a contentious debate on the nature and value of the city’s climbing international population and its effects on issues of housing and integration. It is a debate that frequently spills over into local and expat media with the year starting off with one such incident.


Are expats “all rich”?

In January, Flengte’s comments calling for local Amsterdammers to hold privilege in regards to housing and employment opportunities drew the ire of many. The most vocal opponent of which was D66 Sebastian Capel, president of the local council Amsterdam Zuid. Capel, deeming them “bigoted & xenophobic”. “It’s classic blame policy,” he says. “First, they did it with the tourists. Now, they do it with expats. They say they are the cause but do not offer any solutions”, he says.

Flengte, however, maintains it is not an issue with expats as a whole, but rather one of balance. “The city has been overtaken by big money and big companies,” says the Socialist councilman: “it is appealing to come to a place where their [corporate] regulations and taxes are low.The debate is about international workers but also about the international companies. It is this mixture that Amsterdammers find distressing”, he says. “We are becoming a city where only people with high incomes can live” he adds.

Capel, on the other hand, sees the solution as a “large increase in middle income rental houses would advantage expats and Amsterdammers” citing internationals concerns over cost of living as consistent areas of stress. “Expats are just like Amsterdammers. They are diverse, some have high incomes and some don’t, some have families and some don’t, but we are all stuck in the same position”.


No to “ghettos” of English speaking internationals

It is this position, though, where some take issue, believing that the city does not do enough to protect some of its most vulnerable, particularly those in the low middle income bracket.  “We see a replacement by expats renting out apartments that locals can’t afford anymore,” Jan Bakker says, continuing, “This is a big shift in how the city operates”. But, Appel does not see expat wealth in such absolute terms: “they say they are all rich, but it is not like this. They have diverse needs and wishes, like Amsterdammers”.



And it is also this socio economic homogeneity that tends to feed into – what many locals fear – a blasé attitude toward cultural integration. “You cannot blame expats for wanting to come to Amsterdam”, Flengte says, adding, “you just don’t want to have enclaves of English speaking people. You get entire neighborhoods staying for the short term who don’t invest in the city’s long term health”.

Sebastiaan Capel, president of Amsterdam Zuid council (D66)

Capel, on the other hand, has a much more passive approach, “whatever they contributes, I don’t really care as long as it’s something”, although adding, and agreeing in part with the importance of expats branching outside their tribes, “I hope internationals enjoy Amsterdam life and do not stick in their own bubble,” he says. “It is the expat bubble that is frowned upon by some people as they are looked at as not putting an effort in to integrate when they arrive”.

Amsterdam’s attraction to expats of all descriptions is a continued step in the right direction in terms of racial and ethnic diversity, yet the socio-economic homogeneity occurring remains a point of concern. By ignoring the issues of the working class, while privileging those of the corporate, Amsterdam runs the risk of scapegoating its current capitalism problem with blame tactics and ideology conflict. In terms of long terms solutions, it seems all sides can agree they lie both within government regulation and expat effort.


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