Oct 25-27: ReTakeTheCity (Amsterdam)

We want to use the last weekend of October in Wijkcentrum Ru Pare to make plans for taking back the city. We have devised a programme of workshops, debates and presentations, in the hope that people will participate who want to organise themselves and prepare actions to regain a city that is accessible to everyone who wants to live, work, cooperate and have fun there. That it is no longer the wallet which determines whether you belong there, but the neighbourhood and its residents.

We explicitly organise this as the start of a series of meetings, because we don’t think that you can solve anything with just one-off meetings full of chatter. Above all, we need to set in motion a process of self-organisation and research and planning, and we would like to hear from the participants how we can best do this and what other content is needed.

We will start on Friday, October 25th. During the day, ‘militant researchers’ from different European countries will come together to work on their research into ‘International Landlords’ and what we can do about it. They will present and discuss their findings on Friday evening from 19-20.30 hrs to a larger audience (working language: English, translation into Dutch possible).

Activists and (neighbourhood) movements try to map out what financial forces are active in their respective cities and how they affect the housing rights of the local population. In particular, research has been done into internationally operating ‘large international landlords.’ Rita Silva from Portugal talks about Apollo, Manuel Gabarre (Spain) about Blackstone and Knut Unger (Germany) about Vonovia. We will hear about the consequences of the entry of this type of companies for living conditions. In some European countries such companies are less active. This includes the Netherlands, which still has a relatively large and protected social housing stock. The question (which will be discussed) is whether or not this will eventually also fall prey to ‘the market.’ And of course we will also be talking about the possibilities for structural alternatives, which we have summarized under the heading Socialise Housing across Europe.

Then (from 21:00) in Ru Pare there is the Open Mic, under the leadership of Tijdelijke Toon, with the subject: For whom is the city?/ReTakeTheCity edition

Saturday 26

Saturday 26 October (morning and afternoon): The European Elephant in the room

Officially, the European Union does not ‘deal’ with housing policy, which is a competence of the Member States. But in reality, much of the regulation in the EU is in favour of privatisation and commercialisation (and financialisation) of housing. Yet there is little attention for this on the part of housing activists, who often already are busy enough. In order to catch this elephant by the trunk, a number of housing movement activists issued an initial manifesto with demands last year, accompanied by a film subtitled in several languages (see: on website BPW).

During two workshops on Saturday 26 October, this subject will be further explored and discussed. The aim is to make a well-founded analysis of European policy and to formulate requirements that promote the socialisation of housing. The first workshop is from 11-12.30 hrs (i.e. before the official opening of the event), the second from 14-17.00 hrs. Language: English

Saturday there will be a walk-in at 12:00 with lunch and at 13:00 we will kick off with an exposé by Angela Wigger (political economist of the Radboud University in Nijmegen).

The merciless market and its counterparts

The neoliberal capitalist economy has turned the city into an economic battlefield and housing into a merciless market. This has enormous consequences for the city and for those who do and do not have access to it. Angela Wigger, political economist at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, explains how this came about and what the current situation is, and what we can therefore expect for the near future.

After that a series of 2 x 3 workshops will start: about tenants, the refugees in our midst, housing corporations and cooperatives, the costs of climate policy, and labelling the green zone between the Nieuwe Meer and the Haarlemmerweg as an Amsterdam “Zone À Défendre” (ZAD).

The participants in the militant research network will start their own workshop on the EU and the real estate market at 11:00. This is open to everyone and will continue from 14:00-17:00. The aim is to formulate a series of requirements at a European level, in order to make the desire for the socialisation of housing possible throughout Europe.

The other workshops are:

1) How can we use cooperative models to achieve results in the housing struggle?

Home seekers and tenants are certainly interested in new, more direct forms of control over their homes. This may not be an option for everyone, but for those who like a high degree of autonomy and sharing cooperative housing models offer a starting point for achieving – usually not in the short term, but certainly in the somewhat longer term – tailor-made control. This can be a weapon against further gentrification and sale, but also against further degradation strategies of the housing corporations.

In this workshop, two types of cooperatives will be discussed: the cooperative that aims to realise new construction and the cooperative that wants to take over the management of existing corporation property.

How can we use both models in order to achieve a realistic chance of success?

Can we also use such an approach as a means of action in the proposed process of demolition, followed by new housing, in which corporations and other owners are focusing on precarious temporary forms of housing?

2) How do we take back the corporations? From tenant to customer and back again

Over the past fifteen years, the position of tenants has further deteriorated financially as a result of a combination of lobbying by commercial real estate interests, legal crisis policy (the landlord levy), EU policy on state aid, new rental and price-fixing legislation, and further residualisation of the housing units of the corporations. As a result, a large proportion of tenants have been placed in financial difficulties.

What requirements do we set and how can we work to reverse the essential influence on the policy of the management/administrators of the housing corporations? What means of action do we have and how can we organise ourselves to enforce the desired results (no gentrification/no sale/no passing on of the costs of sustainability to the tenants, etc.)?

Can performance agreements play a central role in this? Or are they part of a repressive-tolerant system? These and other questions and possible solutions will be discussed in this workshop. The occupation of the Borgerstraat 75 can and may serve as an inspiration!

3) Solidarity with people without residence permits

The repressive migration policies of the EU and the Netherlands are causing increasing misery. Large groups of migrants, if they manage to enter ‘Fortress Europe’ at all, are forced to live in very poor conditions as undocumented migrants. Some cities and regions try to improve this situation with plaster solutions, but this is often not enough to give undocumented migrants their basic living conditions, let alone a pleasant life with self-determination.

The issue of the exclusion of undocumented migrants (and other victims of the system) should be at the forefront of ‘taking back the city.’ First of all, of course, there is the need for political demands for a structural change in migration policy. In addition, neighbourhood movements and housing activists can also reserve a permanent place for support to undocumented migrants in their action programmes, for example by laying down the requirement to make good, accessible housing a priority for everyone. Collaboration with migrant groups, involving them and getting involved in their struggle is what we will be talking about in this workshop.

4) The myth of ‘sustainable heat’: traps, resistance and alternatives

Energy company Nuon/Vattenfall is working on the construction of a biomass heat plant in Diemen. This heat plant will be dependent on wood pellets (pressed pellets) from felled forests abroad, and is intended for district heating in Amsterdam.

What can we do to stop the plans, and how can we build clean alternatives together? Mischa van Amsterdam Fossielvrij takes you into the world of corporatism, greenwashing and other obstacles on the road to sustainable alternatives to natural gas.

5) A “Zone À Défendre” for Amsterdam

Between the Nieuwe Meer and the Haarlemmerweg there is a beautiful green zone, wedged between the ever-expanding city of Amsterdam and the growth monster Schiphol. Part of this green zone is the Lutkemeerpolder, which threatens to fall prey to the megalomania of the Amsterdam metropolitan region. According to the municipality, a new distribution centre is to be built here, for which the fertile clay soils of the polder will have to be sacrificed. At the same time, the programme agreement of the ‘green’ and ‘progressive’ municipal authorities, which took office after the municipal elections of March 2018, contains fine phrases about making Amsterdam more sustainable and shortening the food chain, by stimulating agriculture in the vicinity of the capital. Theory and practice are therefore at odds here.

How would it be if we were to label the green zone between Amsterdam and Schiphol as a “Zone À Défendre,” in analogy with the French examples where precious nature reserves are protected against the ruthless march of progress? Wouldn’t this ZAD fit in seamlessly with the municipality’s expressed desire for local food production?

From 17:00 to 18:00, we will hold a plenary meeting to discuss the next steps, followed by a joint dinner (18:30).

At 20:00 there is a public programme full of amazing examples of city conquest from the bottom up in the Netherlands and abroad. The campaigns against Vonovia in Germany and Blackstone in Barcelona will also be on the agenda. We hear one of the initiators from Berlin of a campaign to expropriate houses of speculators, and we look forward to the International Action Week for Housing for All, at the end of March 2020. There is also music, and of course the local campaigns for the Lutkemeerpolder and the Borgerstraat will be discussed.

Moderation: Chris de Ploeg

Sunday 27

Sunday 12:00: Lunch and an exposé by Boudewijn Rückert about the housing struggle through the centuries

Boudewijn Rückert, an experienced housing activist and chronicler of urban developments in Amsterdam, explains how housing in Amsterdam has been a battlefield for centuries and how organised movements that have sought to confront the exploitation of the housing shortage have achieved great success in the past. Boudewijn gives a sketch of these movements and ends with VVD-corifee Stef Blok’s observation that we have now finished the housing of the people and that everything else can be left to ‘the market.’

Then, at 14:00, we will have a big debate on Fearless Cities. There, people from all over Europe will have their say, who have had experience of working with progressive local city councils.

Who is afraid of the fearless city?

Since the election victory of the action party Barcelona en Comu in Barcelona (headed by former housing activist Ada Colau) and similar developments in Madrid and other Spanish cities, ‘municipalism’ or ‘communalism’ has once again come to the limelight. Amsterdam has also joined the company of Fearless Cities and issued a fine statement on administrative pretensions that should create a fairer city. Meanwhile, there are extensive experiences of social movements and their activists with these progressive local governments. What does it yield, and what is the price that movements have to pay for their participation? What is the difference between the situation in – for example – Barcelona, where the campaign really came from the bottom up, from the neighbourhood movements that had emerged from the square occupations, and the situation in Amsterdam, which is completely topdown?

We hope to get answers to these questions, with the input of activists from Spain, Greece and Germany.

Moderator: Fatima Faid (The Hague City Party)

Language: Stoancoal English

All this in Ru Pare, Chris Lebeaustraat 4 in Amsterdam.

The language will usually be Dutch, sometimes English, and a translation is always possible.

Admission is free, donations are highly appreciated.

For more information: https://retakethe.city/