‘Lawless urban jungle’

 Edition 30 September 2018, by Femke van Iperen

Mayor Halsema ready to tackle overcrowding in Amsterdam nightlife districts

The recently-appointed Mayor of Amsterdam Femke Halsema is demanding extra police officers and law enforcers in the capital’s nightlife districts, Dutch media reported this summer. Lawlessness and overcrowding continue to plague nightlife neighbourhoods of Amsterdam, such as the Red Light District (De Wallen) and the Leidseplein. The planned measurements followed a nighttime visit the mayor undertook in July to experience the situation first-hand.

In an article at published in late July by newspaper De Telegraaf, which showed a photo of Halsema accompanied by Cor van Dijk of ‘sex theatre’ called Casa Rosso, the area was described as full of ‘drugs, a seemingly endless stream of tourists, more than a thousand street dealers, drunk people shouting, fights, an abundance of liquor, a shortage of police officers on the streets and vomiting tourists.’ “I will appeal to the House of Representatives to support Amsterdam in this,” Halsema told media, who reported she is aiming to deliver a ‘clinching blow’ in order to convince Minister Grapperhaus of Justice and Security and the House of Representatives, as well as to personally invite ministers to accompany her on a night-time visit of their own.

Ombudsman

The news of the planned measurements followed a damning report by ombudsman Arre Zuurmond. This summer, Dutch media reported how he took up temporary residence on the edge of the Red Light District in order to experience the situation for himself. “In the event of a fire or a heart attack, the emergency services will not be able to enter the area. If the police want to chase a criminal, they simply cannot get through the crowd,” he said. He also spoke of the Dutch capital as being a hotspot of ‘dirty money’, with ‘a police force unable to cope with the situation,’ and of a high number of illegal cabs and canal ferries transporting passengers.

Even Tourists Say There Are Too Many Tourists

This August, National Public Radio (NPR) in the US reported how Amsterdam is suffering from ‘overtourism,’ citing estimates such as ‘fewer than 1 million inhabitants,’ and ‘20 million yearly tourists.’ Enough is enough, long-time Amsterdam resident Bert Nap (one of the people who joined Halsema on her visit) told NPR, explaining how he is regularly disturbed by late-night revellers who ‘vomit in his potted plants, urinate in his mailbox, and scream-sing outside his door.’ “My city is considered a place where anything goes,” he said, adding that even tourists themselves are complaining about ‘too many tourists.’

Keen to clean

Since the tour with Halsema, visitors during busy evenings in the Red Light District can expect closed-off streets due to ‘cleaning breaks’, newspaper Het Parool wrote in early August. In an attempt to control and monitor the city’s number of visitors, Halsema is also planning for the council to close off streets in the Red Light District when needed, as well as monitor busy city-centre canal routes. In addition, officers will purportedly receive a ‘mobile pin device’ so that fines can be paid on the spot. The measures, which were planned to go into effect this August, were labelled in the media by a spokesperson for the mayor as a short-term solution, to be replaced later by more permanent measures.

Nothing new

Zuurmond had already provided testimonies about the problems in 2016. Since then, he has continued to draw attention to the problems of inner-city nightlife in Amsterdam, including statements that the Leidseplein at night turns into a ‘lawless urban jungle,’ with ‘942 violations in one night.’ He has also mentioned a ‘lack of visible enforcement,’ ‘nuisance by urinating, pooping, puking and sex,’ describing the situation as ‘heart-breaking for residents, a threatening disaster for the city and an intolerable mistake by the government.’ The call for more control is nothing new in the capital, and Dutch media have already reported an increase in the number of police officers. Other attempts by the council to curb overcrowding and lawlessness have been the banning of the so-called Dutch ‘beer bicycles’, capping guided tours to no more than 25 people, and deploying special ‘city hosts’ who call tourists out on nuisance behaviour they are displaying.