Amsterdam's squatters run out of time and space


EUROPE & AFRICA: Amsterdam's squatters run out of time and space: Evictions are on the increase as developers seek to turn rundown buildings into luxury flats, writes Gordon Cramb

Financial Times; Jan 2, 2001 By GORDON CRAMB

When Amsterdam police evicted the squatters from Planet Hollywood last month, it signalled what the squatters say is a new determination by the authorities to curb their presence in the city.

The action followed a number of squatter evictions from both private and public properties in the past few months. More are expected. The action comes amid a period of prosperity for the city, with rundown buildings being snapped up by developers, often to turn into luxury flats.

The US theme-restaurant chain had opened its latest branch only months before entering bankruptcy proceedings. The listed 1930s building, empty for a year, used to be a newsreel cinema, and the few dozen who broke in wanted to create an alternative arts centre.

A film evening and a television broadcast were as far as they got. Eight days later they were out. It was the latest in a series of setbacks for what was once one of Europe's largest squatter movements.

Schelto Patijn, who retired at the weekend after six years as mayor of Amsterdam, defends evictions from council-owned properties such as the Kalenderpanden warehouse complex, cleared in October with the help of tear gas.

The city, which is selling the historic premises to create 47 apartments, needs to cater to the "increased expectations of young urban executives", he says.

But Mr Patijn also defends the composition of the housing stock that makes luxury flats relatively rare pushing up prices.

Five out of six homes in the city are rent-controlled, most of them owned by semi-public housing associations. The departing mayor says that remains necessary in a city where, in spite of strong job creation, a third of the population earns the national minimum wage or less.

In addition, Amsterdam needs to ensure it does not squeeze out the student and artistic population that contributes to urban life, Mr Patijn says. Indeed the local authority is allocating Fl 90m (Pounds 25m) to a programme providing spaces for 1,000 artists and craftspeople to live and work.

The country's consensus culture means that numerous squats have been made legal over the years, and the number of people living without authorisation has dropped from some 20,000 during the movement's high point of the early 1980s into the hundreds. Those most active for squatter rights are these days likely to be living legally.

Increased commercial redevelopment, as property prices began an 18-year rise, has also meant fewer suitable squats have become available and the power to enforce evictions has also strengthened.

According to Eric Duivenvoorden, author of a history of the movement, many squatters have moved on and begun small businesses, while others have turned their experience into gainful employment at bodies such as the housing associations.

A movement that had shunned the legal system has become used to deploying judicial measures in its defence.

Conflicts had moved to the courtroom or city hall. Last month an organisation called Vrije Ruimte ("free space") was set up to negotiate with the council on the squatters' behalf.

Squatter numbers are said to be rising again and in recent months direct clashes have also revived: 13 police were injured during the Kalenderpanden clearance as supporters of the occupants threw stones, bottles and fireworks. The consensus approach is fraying at both ends, and the unannounced police raid on the Planet Hollywood building confirmed that.

Rodrigo Fernandez, a 25-year-old squatter involved with Vrije Ruimte, says: "It fits the new pattern of zero tolerance, where everything has to conform with the rules."

The next test is likely to come at Vrankrijk, a cafe squat set up in 1982 near the royal palace. A decade later, the occupants raised the money to buy the building. Now city authorities intend to shut the bar because it has no food or drink licence, which Vrankrijk has resisted because it would mean allowing police on the premises.

As one of his last mayoral duties, Mr Patijn met the organising collective but all that followed was a notice of closure pushed under the door.

The suspicion is that the council will seek to have the place boarded up before Job Cohen, currently junior justice minister, succeeds him in the middle of this month.

Copyright: The Financial Times Limited

Planet Hollywood was squatted again after the first eviction. After 3 hours the police came to evict the place again. More information (in Dutch)


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