Between a rock and hard place: Amsterdam’s city council and the Erotic Centre

In the sedate and affluent neighbourhood Amsterdam Zuid, residents do not get their feathers ruffled easily. When the urban planner and acclaimed architect Hendrik Berlage (1856-1934) designed ‘Plan Zuid’ in the early twentieth century, the city hoped the district would house residents from the impoverished, overpopulated and criminalized neighbourhoods of Jordaan and De Pijp, where they lived in in dark, dank and damp conditions. By moving the city’s poor to a new neighbourhood with spacious tree-lined avenues and esthetically designed Art Deco architecture designed by the Amsterdamse School, the city hoped they would become more law-abiding citizens. However, once Plan Zuid with its playful and unique use of yellow brick and red terracotta rooftiles was realized, Amsterdam’s upper and middle classes were also interested in living there, and the neighbourhood turn into one of the poshest and most desirable districts of the city. More than a hundred years later, it still prides itself on its upper-class residents, chic restaurants and upscale shops.

However, since Amsterdam’s city council’s decision last year to create an Erotic Centre in Zuid, to alleviate the city centre’s Red-Light District of its tourists and criminal activities. The city council not only wants to make sex work safe for the workers, but also to reduce the number of tourists in the Red-Light District and make the city centre safer for the residents. Therefore, similar to the early-twentieth century plans of moving the poor from the centre to another district, in early 2022 the city proposed relocating part of Amsterdam’s prostitution activities to one of eight locations, outside of the city centre, where they will be safer. The new Erotic Centre will facilitate 100 sex workers – women, men and LGBTIQI+. In early February 2023, the city announced and shortlisted three locations for the new Erotic Centre: near the NSDM wharfs in Amsterdam Noord, the green belt just south of RAI event hall, and along the Europaboulevard in Amsterdam Zuid.

Despite the city council’s good intentions, the residents of Amsterdam Zuid, but also of the other to proposed locations, are not happy with the prognosis of the seedy elements that tend to hover around prostitution. Across the street from the one of the suggested location in Amsterdam Zuid is a school with approximately 4,000 students. A stone’s throw away is Beatrixpark, a green oasis in the middle of Amsterdam Zuid, where children can freely play and locals can walk their dogs. Residents fear that an Erotic Centre in the middle of the neighbourhood will attract criminal elements, cause traffic problems, and even drive real estate prices down. Residents near the NSDM Wharfs in Amsterdam Noord were equally upset that their neighbourhood was short-listed. In the last ten years the area has turned into an upcoming hotspot for creatives, where trendy bars and restaurants have spouted up. Most businesses fear an Erotic Centre will not attract a desirable clientele.

On the one hand, the city wants to clean up the Red-Light District, reduce the amount of crime, make it safer for sex workers, and transform the area into a regular neighbourhood, while on the other hand the council is transferring the problems of the neighbourhood to another location. The only advantage of the current plans is that it would reduce the number of tourists in Red-Light District. In the meantime, the residents of Amsterdam Zuid are not taking the city council’s policy sitting down. To date, more than 5,400 residents have signed a petition protesting the new Erotic Centre, arguing that it would disrupt the lives of the children in the neighbourhood, threaten the peace in Beatrixpark, and cause problems for the safety of passengers at RAI and Amsterdam Zuid subway stations. Due to the complexity of implementing the plan, policymakers suggest that it might take three to ten years before the new Erotic Centre is eventually realized. Amsterdam’s city council is scheduled to make a final decision in the fall of 2023. However, whatever the decision, the council is caught between a rock and hard place.

Written by Benjamin Roberts