The sign of renewal plans for the Kolenkit neighbourhood by Amsterdam municipality
  • photography
  • non-fiction

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Kolenkit: A temporary multicultural rhapsody

by Jasmijn de Nood

When I was younger, the Kolenkit-neighbourhood was, like the North of Amsterdam and the Bijlmer, not a place you went to visit. In 2009 it got the questionable title of ‘The worst neighbourhood of the Netherlands’. There was a lot of poverty, criminality, unemployment and the housing was of bad quality. Since then, a lot has changed. The neighbourhood has become cleaner and safer, but at a price.

When Minem and I first visited the neighbourhood of Kolenkit in Bos en Lommer around September 2019, we immediately saw huge building sites in between the 1950s housing complexes. Many of the post-war complexes contained social housing and were not very well taken care of. We walked by and tried to speak to the people living in the old complexes, asking about their living situations and how they experienced the change. Not many of them felt comfortable talking to us about this subject. Most of them seemed to give somewhat of a ‘correct’ answer, saying for example that they did not notice any change. When we asked them if they had seen their neighbours move away, they said yes, but where they went none of them knew.

When we visited a second time, we found some people willing to speak to us more openly, after we convinced them we did not work for anyone but ourselves. First we ran into a man carrying a young girl while he entered one of the typical post-war housing complexes. The complex was situated next to a building that was still a construction site the first time we visited, but now looked like a shiny spaceship that had just landed next to the post-war complexes. The man told us how the municipality had, since the spaceship building called ‘Rhapsody’ had landed, cleaned up and improved the little grass strips in his street. He did not seem too happy about this though. ‘Before the Rhapsody building was here, no-one cared that rats were walking around the grass strips.’ He gave us a look inside his old hallway. He implied that these improvements were only made to make the neighbourhood more attractive for potential buyers or renters of the new complex. On top of that, he said he’d gotten letters from his housing corporation saying that his building was going to be torn down, at which point he would have to (at least temporarily) move out. When this was going to happen was unclear. Elsewhere in the neighbourhood we could see the post-war complexes already getting renovated. It was unclear to us whether the old residents moved back in after the renovation.

The street that contains some of the social housing blocks in Kolenkit neighbourhood
The street that contains some of the social housing blocks in Kolenkit neighbourhood

The new living complex called ‘Rhapsody’ was originally built to contain relatively affordable apartments just above the social renting norm: between 720 and 1000 euro’s a month. We heard that part of the apartments were offered to residents in the neighbourhood who had to leave their social housing because their building was being torn down or renovated, like the house of the man we spoke to. Later we found out that the renting prices of the Rhapsody apartments had gone up. On top of the renting price, residents were required to rent a garage and pay for extra services like the ‘communal living space,’ created in the middle of the Rhapsody complex. This communal living space existed, among other things, out of a greenhouse where residents of the neighbourhood could come together to cook, have language lessons and workshops. A good initiative by creative agency Cascoland. This particular greenhouse was situated on top of the stairs you had to climb to get to the Rhapsody apartments, built on half a floor level higher than the ground the post-war buildings are built on. We read that many neighbourhood activities had already taken place in and around the greenhouse, however none of the residents we spoke to had ever visited the communal living space.

The new living complex 'Rhapsody' in Kolenkit neighbourhood
The new living complex 'Rhapsody' in Kolenkit neighbourhood

One street further, Minem and I found the building of WOW Amsterdam. This building contains a hostel, temporary artist in residence apartments, a restaurant and a contemporary art space. When we visited the art space, we found a few projects made by several different artists. The projects were all about the Kolenkit neighbourhood or Bos en Lommer. We decided to reach out to two of the artists. Both of them seemed to be quite frustrated with the project they had done in the Kolenkit. They said they were asked to solve a problem in the neighbourhood but only had two weeks to do so. They both felt a bit akward towards the residents because they were not able to make a durable change in this short amount of time.

During our visits, we heard and read about several creatives who were asked by the municipality to make sure the Kolenkit-neighbourhood would become a clean, safe but also multicultural neighbourhood. Even though these things take time, it seems as though the measures that were taken are either missing their point or aren’t sustainable. The question comes to mind whether it actually is the municipality’s intention to make these changes sustainable. It seems to be just like it is in Utrecht: the multiculturalism as an exotic experience for newcomers, which will only last until the transformation of the neighbourhood has finished.

The original blogpost was created on the 13th April 2020, as part of reflections on our research for the graphic novel.

This poster is by Ruben Pater as a part of “Who Owns The City?” project in collaboration with Yuri Veerman.
This poster is by Ruben Pater as a part of “Who Owns The City?” project in collaboration with Yuri Veerman. The posters are not printed or pasted by these designers; but it became an inspiring organic tool of communication amongst the residents.