Reclaiming the city (Amsterdam and beyond)

by Nia Clarke, Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Last night I went to a talk with a friend in Pakhuis de Zwijer on reclaiming the city. This made me reflect that design is political. Amsterdam has some fantastic urban design, but much to improve.

I would recommend Pakhuis de Zwijer for anyone interested in going to public talks and lectures outside of academic contexts. It has a busy programme full of fascinating topics that enables you to learn about completely random topics, or compliment your studies, all for free. To make use of the cosmopolitan buzz of a city, I think going to public talks is such a fun activity to explore new ways of thinking, new areas of the city, and actually engage with local people who have vastly different life experiences. (Check it out > Warehouse de Zwijger). Other avenues to find interesting public events is to type in key words in Eventbrite. I’ve been to plenty of talks about sustainability which is my core interest, but other random talks attended include; feminist porn, a series on private law, a documentary about microbes, German films about the female gaze, a talk by Thomas Hertog on the origin of time. All have been fascinating, even if I don’t understand everything. This is also typical of me as a PPE student who can’t stick to one discipline and ends up being the jack of all trades…..or master of none.

If you like outdoor community work, I would also encourage you to find a community garden. They are prolific around the blocks of flats around the city which you could get involved in directly. Otherwise, I would recommend Anna’s Tuin & Ruitge on the Sciencepark campus, or checking out ASEED activities on their website > ASEED – Action for Solidarity Environment Equality and Diversity. Recently, I went to their Food Autonomy Festival which included ways to reclaim green spaces through seed bombs, guerrilla gardening, etc. Which seems like a fantastic way to claim pockets within the city, and pollinate at the same time.

In terms of non-commercial spaces for young people to socialise, Amsterdam has a lot to offer. Because the city has retained a lot of its green spaces, canals, parks, and lakes are prime spots to meet up with people for a picnic or a catch-up. I’ve taken to bringing a swimming costume and frisbee to these occasions because they inevitably come in use. Although this is only a luxury once the sun comes out mid May-June, the summer extends well into September which means plenty of opportunity to relax in Amsterdam’s multitude of parks. Vondelpark is beautiful, but my preferred spots are Oosterpark, Flevopark, and Gaasperplas. If you’d like to venture out the city, Haarlem’s national park has crystal blue lakes and extends onto a white sandy beach.

I would also recommend radar.squat.net | Alternative and radical events agenda to find fun activities in squats across the city. These range from book clubs, to film screenings, yoga lessons, gigs, or community kitchens. My ultimate favourite is Joe’s Garage in Oost > Joe’s Garage (joesgarage.nl). By supporting these collectives, you’re undertaking a political act by claiming the city for all, and expressing radical democracy for community self-organisation, and creating accessible spaces within the city.

Lastly, you can claim the city through art. When I first moved in August 2022, I was quite impressed by the amount of street art dotted around. But a friend did remind me of the gentrifying potential of street art/murals that have been commissioned to ‘brighten up’ a place along municipality guidelines and creative direction. So one thing to express your own creativity in your neighbourhood is take up street art yourself or spread posters across campus!

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