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Is Amsterdam slowly losing its soul ?

Amsterdam, Red Light District, three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. Walking on one of the main streets of the neighbourhood, along the canal, I cannot but notice how quiet, not to say “dead”, the area is. Where are the people? Where are the tourists?

Taking the corner at the end of the street, I nearly bump into a kid, that doesn’t seem much older than 5 years old. His mum and dad are walking right behind him, pushing a baby in a stroller.Welcome to the 2017’s Red Light District, where window brothels and coffeeshops are slowly being replaced by art shops and fancy cafes.

Is the Red Light District coming to an end?

You would think that, in an area known for drugs and sex workers, walking around with toddlers should be considered shocking. That’d be ignoring the fact that the Red Light District has changed drastically over the past 5 to 10 years.

In fact, the whole Amsterdam is changing. Some of the most famous neighbourhood are slowly evolving, not to say disappearing. The Red Light District being the first victim of gentrification, and efforts from the municipality to turn the area into a family friendly / fancy area.

This iconic neighbourhood played a huge part in what made Amsterdam, Amsterdam. A beautiful city, amazing for sight-seeing and photography enthusiasts, where you could relax as well as enjoy the open-mindness of its inhabitants, wishing it was as cool where you were from.

The Red Light District and its brothels used to be the area of the city you would go to if you were up to no good. You can read more about its history here.
Over the years, it has evolved and became a must-seen for the tourists visiting Amsterdam, and a place to party. A little economic heaven for businesses, which attracts every kind of people the city has to offer, tourists or not.

But this is all changing. Quicker than you think.

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Amsterdam has a problem with brothels and sex workers

I remember walking around the Red Light District years ago, when I was a student visiting the capital for the first time(s). It looked a lot different than it does now, and this was not even 10 years ago.

Although it was full of tourists, the whole neigbourhood felt a bit rougher, was crowded no matter the day of the week, and was a real party area. It may not be the most positive description you could think of, but in the end, as crowded and agitated as it was, the neighbourhood had a soul. It was a lively area.

But it seems it wasn’t to the taste of all, especially the Dutch. The municipality of Amsterdam has spent years trying to change the Red Light District into a family friendly, arty area. In fact, a government plan called 1012 (after the postcode of the neighbourhood) started 10 years ago, with the explicit intention to “clean” the Red Light District. It aims to replace brothels windows by luxury boutiques and upscale cafes. Bring in the wealthy tourists!

The project 1012, or the gentrification of Amsterdam

Since it has started, the project 1012 has led to the closing of 126 windows.Officially, the government created this project in order to fight against criminal organisation (illegal prostitution mainly).

While there is no doubt that a huge part of the Red Light District was under control of ciminal organisations, many windows have been closed, but few criminals have actually been arrested. Meanwhile, some sex workers who have lost their windows have been pushed to work in the streets.

The municipality of Amsterdam wishes to put the emphasis on museums and culture. Which is a great idea of course, the city having so much to offer. But is getting rid of the Red Light District really necessary?

Whether you like it or not, legal prostitution is one of those many things that made Amsterdam. Perhaps most importantly, the Dutch have always seemed so proud of it. They like to defend it as being one human right, and a proof that they are so open minded and tolerant.

And yet, the government is trying to get rid of it, as much as it can. Not only in Amsterdam: the city of Utrecht, for example, has banned prostitution years ago (although they are meant to re-implement it at some point). And the windows in the Red light district of Amsterdam are slowly disappearing, making space for new arty shops and fresh juice bars, all super healthy and organic food.

Look around you next time: it has already started.

Will coffeeshops disappear within the next years?

As the city is getting cleaner, so is its air: coffeeshops are closing one after another, so much in fact that many people believe they will all be gone within 5 to 10 years. Once again, personal feelings towards cannabis aside, can you imagine Amsterdam without coffeeshops?

I can understand it is not necessarily one of the thing Amsterdammers are the most proud of, but I cannot imagine the city without them. Let’s not even talk about the effect this would have on tourism and economy. It is estimated that around 25% of tourists visit a coffeeshop during their stay in the capital.

Within the past 20 years, the number of coffeeshops in Amsterdam has halved, from 350 down to 175. And since the 1st of January 2017, a new law prohibiting coffeeshops within 250 meters of a school has led to 27 shops closures, including the oldest coffeeshop in Amsterdam, the Mellow Yellow.

The law was passed as an attempt for the city to avoid the enforcement of the Weed pass, which prohibits non-Dutch people from visiting coffeeshops. While most of the rest of the country already follows the Weed pass, the city of Amsterdam has so far managed not to implement it, mainly by fear of explosion of illegal street-dealing.

But is this all at sake? By getting rid of what made the Dutch such a figure to follow in terms of open mindness and tolerance, the country seems to be taking a step back… in time.

At a time where other countries are starting to legalize cannabis, or openly talking about it, it seems quite ironic that the very country they had to follow as a model is now slowly turning against it.

What will Amsterdam look like within 10 years from now? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

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