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Interview with the mayor of Amsterdam, Femke Halsema

Back in 2014, Amsterdam became the first city to have what is called a “night mayor.” The role of a night mayor is what the name suggests. They are intended to be the chief executive officer of a city’s nighttime economy. And so it was and it continues to be recognition that the night can be an important economic development tool.

This seemed to work out well for Amsterdam, which is why many other cities quickly followed suit with their own night mayor elections. During this time, a number of us here in Toronto also started advocating for our own nighttime CEO. (FYI, here is a link to the current night mayor of Amsterdam.)

But fast forward to today and the tone seems to have changed in Amsterdam. The city’s daytime mayor, Femke Halsema, is now actively concerned about over-tourism and, in particular, the way that some tourists behave when they check-in to Amsterdam.

Here’s an excerpt from a recent interview that she did with Bloomberg:

We have to tackle two problems. The first problem is what I’d call the London problem: Our city is becoming too expensive. That is also part of being an international city and having many expats living here. But it has consequences for the middle classes. It’s very difficult to find a house in Amsterdam except for the highest incomes, so our middle class — teachers, police officers, people working in health care — are leaving the city. We’re very alert about it. For a city to survive in the long run you need social stability and people from middle or lower classes to also feel at home.

Our second problem is the Venice problem: The people who live here become estranged especially in the city center, because it’s no longer part of their city. We have to find a new balance, in being a home for people from Amsterdam and at the same time welcoming international visitors and tourists.

More specifically, the Venice problem seems to be a problem of behavior:

It’s not a form of tourism we welcome or don’t welcome — it’s a form of behavior. What we do not welcome is people who come here on a vacation from morals. They express a form of behavior they would not express at home. People coming here to lose their morals is a problem for us.

It is for this reason that the city is hoping to relocate its red light district to outside of the city center. The intention is not to get rid of it, or for the city to turn its back on its long history of tolerance, but it does want to move it somewhere else in the hopes that Amsterdam will become more associated with culture than hedonism.

But does moving it actually change any behaviors? If one were to develop a purpose-built “erotic center” from the ground up, is it even possible to make it more integrated with the broader city (minimize the Venice problem) and, to use the mayor’s words, make it more chic than what currently exists?

These are all exceedingly tough city building questions that can’t really be untangled from questions of morality.

For the full Bloomberg interview with mayor Halsema, click here.

Photo by Azhar J on Unsplash

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