Sustainable Cities™

Amsterdam: Urban acupuncture creates new life in the suburbs

The Dutch capital Amsterdam is running out of space. The city centre has no more room for housing and entertainment activities, for which reason urban planners are now trying to create new urban centres on the outskirts of the city to comply with the population's increasing need for space. In Zuidost, in the south of Amsterdam, architects have optimised conditions in the socially deprived area of Bijlmermeer by means of Urban Acupuncture, turning the area into a new entertainment mecca.

Amsterdam Bijlmermeer, foto venligst udlånt af Juul Frost Arkitekter

Bijlmermeer was built in the 1960s to give Amsterdamers an alternative to living in the densely populated city centre. Enormous concrete blocks with large, well lit flats were to entice people out of the centre, but people moving out preferred to have a house and garden and the flats were left standing empty.

The area's residents have for many years mainly consisted of unemployed people, those on very low wages and in certain cases illegal immigrants. Many of the immigrants came from the former Dutch colony of Suriname in South America who emigrated to Holland after independence in 1975, and whom the authorities placed in cheap council housing in Bijlmermeer. The neighbourhood has one of the highest crime rates in Amsterdam, and Bijlmermeer became a multi-ethnic but it monofunctional ghetto, a residential area which did not exactly encourage activity and social intercourse. In 1992 the plane crashed into two of the blocks of flats. The clean-up triggered the demolition and renovation of several buildings under construction of new, low level buildings with the intention of attracting a wealthier class of citizen.

Amsterdam Bijlmermeer, courtesy of Juul Frost Architects

Today, Bijlmermeer's neighbours include ArenA Poort, a newly built entertainment and commercial area with a large stadium and the Amsterdamsepoort shopping centre, among other things. In laying plans for the area, it was the architects' task to get the three areas to relate to each other so as to benefit the entire area and to optimise Bijlmermeer, in order to create a new and better life for the area's residents.

The old station was rebuilt above ground so that people can frequent the area beneath it and pass through the area. It has become a symbol of the neighbourhood's great new ambitions. At the same time, they have created a new urban precinct which symbolically and physically binds the neighbourhood together, with the station as its centre of rotation. The pedestrian precinct provides an alternative to the centre of Amsterdam, with varied spatial elements where people can shop and hang out. The area to the east of the station has been tidied up and the ageing, dilapidated urban infantry has been pulled down and replaced. To the west of the station, the architect has placed over-dimensioned sitting sculptures in warm types of timber. These 'sticky public spaces' allow people to get to talk to each other or gather in groups. The new benches also break down the most obvious connecting lines and create new patterns of movement.

Today, 150 nationalities live in Bijlmermeer. Unemployment is still higher than in the rest of Amsterdam, but people are no longer moving away from the neighbourhood. Apart from homes, there is a new high school and the ING bank also has its headquarters in the area. Both are strategically located in the East in order to pull some life across into the more deprived housing area. The everyday population of the area has thus become a mixture of business people, high school students and residents of the blocks of flats, with regular visits by hordes of sport and music fans to the stadium. New owner occupier homes have been built to attract to the area middle-class families who would like to live close to the centre of Amsterdam.

Last updated Tuesday, January 21, 2014