The city is now only for the rich


The city is for the rich. “If you are well educated, with a partner who, just like you, has a good permanent job, then you can have a great life there. But there are also vulnerable groups of people for whom such a life in the city has become inaccessible, ”says lawyer and professor of environmental law Niels Koeman, former state councilor at the Council of State and member of the Council for the Environment and Infrastructure.

This Thursday, the Council will publish an advice to the cabinet asking to guarantee access to cities for all groups in society. There must be an ‘accessibility test’; in plans and visions, governments must examine how these will work out in practice for groups of citizens. Koeman: “Just like you are an EIA [milieueffectrapportage] impact on the environment, you could also test measures and plans for living, facilities and transport in the city for accessibility. ”

The cities have made a glorious comeback in the past decade. Especially in the eighties and nineties many large cities were not very popular; you’d rather get out than go. In the mid-1990s, the big cities policy came into vogue; successive cabinets tried to breathe new life into dying cities through, among other things, large-scale urban renewal. Many cities have now flourished. Koeman: “I sometimes get foreign guests who ask where in the Netherlands are the problematic banlieues they know in their own country. They seem absent. ”

Unjustified differences

Reality is different. The Council describes in the advice Access to the city the downside of success; large groups of Dutch people do not benefit from the city’s prosperity. The differences are “unjustified” and must be combated.

The biggest bottleneck is housing. Buying a house is not only an unattainable ideal for traditionally vulnerable groups such as people with low incomes, but now also for large parts of the middle class. “The newly vulnerable are a very diverse group of people: taxi drivers and cleaners, health care workers and police officers, journalists and account managers,” said the Council.

Many flex workers also cannot get a mortgage without a neat pay slip, not to mention starters. In addition, municipalities have cut a lot on facilities, such as libraries and community centers, partly due to the decentralization of government tasks.

Many city dwellers also have difficulty with transport. “Public transport is expensive, many connections have deteriorated, not everyone can afford a car and cycling is not always an option,” writes the Council. Hospitals and sports clubs are disappearing to the outskirts of the city and are therefore more difficult to reach. In recent years there has been a lot of attention for ‘thick’ transport lines, such as the Amsterdam North / South line. A side effect is that other, more finely meshed transport often disappears. “The North / South line in Amsterdam has led to a large number of extra travelers. Paradoxically, at the same time, 38 percent of the people in Amsterdam-Noord indicate that the quality of public transport has deteriorated for them ”, the Council writes.

It is the ‘combination’ of limited access to housing, facilities and transport that sidelined many residents. Koeman: “It may not be a disaster to move to Almere because houses in Amsterdam are too expensive, but then it would be nice if you had smooth transport between these two cities. And that is not always the case. ”

A fence around the city

The Netherlands has renovated the cities nicely, but then, as it were, also put a fence around them. You can only partially blame the government for that, the Council believes. The cutbacks by housing corporations have certainly contributed a lot to the exclusion of city residents. The landlord levy, a levy that corporations have to pay on their homes, has not helped their financial strength either.

But there are also other causes: living in the city has simply become popular, and the persistent low interest rates have made it attractive for wealthy city residents to set themselves up as an investor or landlord. Koeman: “A lot of people have thought: let me buy that apartment on the corner of my street and rent it out to an expat.”

Assume what residents want

Still, governments could do a lot to reclaim the city on the happy few. Instead of thinking ‘from the drawing board at the city office’, start from what city residents themselves want and are able to do, says Koeman. When planning, consider how much money and time people need to be able to participate in urban life. Municipalities can support citizens if they want to set up housing cooperatives or, as Koeman says, “if a group of Syrian status holders wants to start a restaurant or bring something like the Zwarte Markt from Beverwijk to Amsterdam”.

Furthermore, in addition to building more affordable homes, work can also be done on the renovation of offices and the division of homes. The Council further calls for attention to the real needs of people in urban transport. A solid bicycle, for example. Koeman: “Many people do not have a bicycle. It is too expensive. Or people cannot cycle. Are afraid of falling. Why shouldn’t you be able to rent out bicycles for one euro? ”

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