The last few years have seen an undermining of the liveability of European inner cities. Residents and small businesses are rapidly being replaced by international mass tourism. With the rise of low-cost airlines, the worldwide growth of the middle class and the irrepressible home-sharing economy, an end to the growing tourism flows is still not in sight.
Amsterdam too has lost its balance. Since the turn of the century, tourists have been taking possession of the city's canal belt and hotels are springing up like mushrooms. Policymakers are encouraging the tourism flows ever further, or at best are responding with a half-hearted ban on hotels. The functional and socially diverse city centre is making way for a tourist reservation with unaffordable rental and hospitality prices. Local residents often feel powerless. Amsterdam citizens complain bitterly about the increasing pressure, but at the same time rent out their flats via popular websites such as Airbnb.
It seems as if Amsterdam has forgotten that a hard battle was once fought to defend its beloved inner city against the urban planners of the 1960s. At that time the threat came from modernist office and hotel complexes, shopping centres and motorways. In the 1970s critical citizens turned against the goals and methods of large-scale urban renewal, which formed the foundation for such developments. Assisted by a shaky economy and the changing wishes and demands of residents, in the 1980s willing politicians and critical citizens were able to transform the inner city into an affordable place to live, work and enjoy leisure time.
If this unique character of the Amsterdam inner city is to be preserved, the city needs to regain the ability to defend itself as it did during the 1970s. If history repeats itself, as historians often claim, then we must also be able to learn from it. And so this article examines how the people of Amsterdam over the 1970s succeeded in resisting the city's hotel and business sector.
The end of Paradiso
The current hotel boom has its origins in the urban crisis of the 1960s and 1970s, when tens of thousands of residents and hundreds of businesses left Amsterdam for the surrounding region. In a spiral of impoverishment and decay, the slowly increasing tourism trade was one of the few glimmers of hope for the city's economic future.