The home is all the rage. We see it in the media, where Ikea commercials and romantic movies remind us that there is no place quite like home; we come across it in the pamphlets of political parties that argue that ‘everyone should feel at home in the Netherlands’; and we see it all around us: everyone is trying to make themselves at home – in their house, in the neighbourhood, in the city, and in the nation. State policy is supporting citizens in this. Policy interventions and welfare projects ensure that citizens integrate, meet each other, begin to feel connected with one another, and identify themselves with the neighbourhood, the city and the country. In so doing, politics seeks to promote active citizenship and to encourage people to become involved in their neighbourhood, city and country – as if it were their own home.
These policies and social projects show that there is nothing noncommittal about feeling at home. Feeling at home is necessary and compulsory. There is, of course, the political hope that the quality of life in so-called ‘disadvantaged neighbourhoods’ will improve by increasing a sense of home among their inhabitants. Feeling at home and experiencing a sense of interconnectedness are seen as preconditions for a ‘good’ and livable neighbourhood and city. And successful neighbourhoods – characterised by sustainable, local networks of residents – are considered to be the building blocks of a sense of belonging at the national level.
More and more policymakers believe that the nation, the city and certainly the neighbourhood should feel like home to its residents. On the basis of this idea, politicians – in collaboration with welfare workers and local organisations – are calling upon residents to become actively involved in their ‘collective house’ by jointly countering deviant behaviour, by serving in neighbourhood committees, by participating in neighbourhood activities and by taking care of neighbours in need of help. The increased social control and social cohesion are meant to lead to a greater sense of security, more trust among residents and a livable environment that everyone can justifiably call their ‘home’.
A livable Netherlands is a country in which everyone feels at home – this is what is written in countless policy documents produced by rural and local politics and also in the ambitious plans of welfare institutions and neighbourhood organisations. But is that even possible?