The Dutch capital is fast becoming a victim of its own success, warns Wim Pijbes. Quick, get out the mops and buckets and keep it spic and span for tourists – and locals- to enjoy!
For the first time Amsterdam is experiencing what it really means to be a city with worldwide appeal. With the recent re-opening of several museums the capital’s cultural range is now second to none and Amsterdam has become a fixture in the calendar of the increasingly numerous cultural tourists.
But the city is at a crossroads. Does Amsterdam want to be up there with the world’s top cities or will it settle for being average? asked journalist Simon Kuper in The Financial Times (May 31). The prestigious global affairs and lifestyle magazine Monocle recently published its list of 25 most liveable cities in the world. After years of conspicuous absence Amsterdam is back, for the second year running, and has even moved up three places to number 19.
The onus is now on Amsterdam to accommodate the increasing number of visitors and do it properly. The first efforts have been made but much more is needed.
What is happening to Amsterdam is part of a worldwide development. Last Monday the New York Times featured an article on ‘museums and the masses’. New museums everywhere are being mobbed. Visitor numbers exceed every expectation.
The number of museumgoers in London has doubled in ten years. New records are being set in Paris each year. The number of visitors to Museumplein is now five million plus. That is the new reality.
Nowhere in the Netherlands do we see a similar concentration of people in such a small space. Added to the mix are day trippers and visitors who don’t necessarily come for the museums, and locals who are just going about their business. The local traffic is grumpily trying to find a way through the swelling number of skaters, scooters, segways and beer bikes.
This sort of growth is not sustainable. It is clear for all to see: the littered streets, the irritation, the queues. Amsterdam is becoming dirty, sleazy and overcrowded. It’s time for a Deltaplan for Tourist Amsterdam.
I have a number of suggestions. One is to finally implement the measures, announced in April of last year, to counteract street vending and the mess it makes. Next up, a ban on the practice of short-stay rentals which, apart from being dangerous and illegal, also constitute unfair competition for hotels. Short-stays on houseboats should be looked into as well. Transport by taxi in Amsterdam is still far from adequate and needs improving. And ways must be found to manage that particularly environmentally-unfriendly tourist attraction, the canal cruise.
And for goodness sake build more bike sheds. Drag rubbish collection into the 21st century in the inner city and around Museumplein. In the most affluent neighbourhoods of the city rubbish bags are being ripped open by seagulls, rats and other vermin grubbing for food.
Next point on the list is prostitution although I realise that eradicating its excesses may be prove very difficult. The city authorities cannot close their eyes to the dire circumstances of under-age Rumanian and Hungarian girls and other victims of human trafficking.
And why not be honest about the policy on soft drugs and recognise that some psychologically vulnerable youngsters may end up in a youth care unit or worse as a consequence of cannabis use. Some 200 coffeeshops are located in Amsterdam. It’s a shady, million euro industry where a rosy haze is hiding grim goings-on. ‘Bad money drives out good money’, and that goes for the coffeeshops as well.
Amsterdam is a wonderful place and provides great pr for the Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum is planning a comprehensive Rembrandt exhibition for next year and work on the entrance to the Van Goghmuseum as well as a new wing will soon be finished. More people will inevitably flock to the capital. We need to be able to welcome them properly but time is running out.
Amsterdam’s proverbial laid-back attitude no longer cuts it. ‘I Amsterdam’ has come to mean ‘me first and the city later’. Now Amsterdam city council must be given the time and the means to make the capital liveable for locals and loveable for tourists once again.
Wim Pijbes is director of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam
This article was published earlier in NRC Next
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