Red Amsterdam Nord Trying to Save Their Community

ACORN International Amsterdam Community Organizing Economic Development

            Amsterdam      Sometimes coincidences are surprising and other times, it seems like fate.  Adrien Roux and I had both of these reactions as we walked briskly from the ferry across from the central station in the rain to the offices of Red Amsterdam Nord, the Amsterdam North Network.  We stopped in a grocery store to buy what mi companera calls a “hostess gift” for the woman who was putting us up later that evening who was one of the coalition leaders.  Adrien tried to pay with a Visa card, which the store rejected because of Visa-hate.  We moved to another counter where I was paying in euros, and as we got moved to leave the counter, we ran into our host in the store.  It turned out that they kept the keys to their office down the block behind the cashier’s counter.  Who knew?  What a coincidence.

Over the next number of hours, we met five of the leaders of the organization, formed amazingly over the last 18-months in the middle of the pandemic, when development plans by the city council forced them to come together.  Sixteen groups of various kinds, mostly nonprofit, and now twenty, came together to face the crisis and form the coalition.  Five of the groups were environmental.  A number were based in different communities in north Amsterdam.  Some were churches.  They began in earnest trying to sort out the plans, and then confront the city about the announcement to build 60,000 new housing units in the north, and what it would mean for the existing communities and their survival.

Amsterdam is not a huge city, perhaps 750,000 people with more than one-million in the metro area.  Amsterdam Nord is across the river from most of the city.  This was the area for the port, warehouses, industrial operations, and housing for the workers and other low-and-moderate income families who could not afford to live in the city proper.  It was the Algiers to New Orleans, the Brooklyn to Manhattan, the North Little Rock to Little Rock, the St. Paul to Minneapolis, the Fort Worth to Dallas, the Pasadena to Houston, the Oakland to San Francisco, but always still the second choice, an afterthought even  as part of the city itself.

That hadn’t changed, even as the price of housing and rents had skyrocketed.  For example, this was where social housing was.  Garden apartments built for workers in the 1940s, were slated for destruction and rebuilding, and rather than renovation, and that became the fighting cry for groups throughout this less than 100,000-person district facing an influx that would half or double the population in this small area.  If the city contracted with developers for high rises along the river, the rest of the area would be in the shadows.  The Dallas-based Hines company was buying whole tranches of apartments.  The simplest demands of the coalition where “nothing for us, without us.”  Welcome to new people and housing units, but assure us that there is not disinvestment, but care given to existing houses and families.  Don’t tear down, renovate and build up.

They told stories of long fights and small victories.  They had forced the city’s hands even with a small base with creative tactics and stubbornness by willing to walk away from meetings if the city council or staff was not listening to them, was unprepared, or had not read and studies their demands.

These were great people with an interesting, but fledgling organization.  ACORN wanted to help, so the next steps should be interesting, if we get the call, and can find a way to respond.