The Northern Banks of IJ
Amsterdam North
the Netherlands

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type of use
Milica Topalovic, Marc Neelen, Ana Dzokic
(Stealth group)


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Platform for temporary use


The Northern Banks of IJ and temporary use

time frame: from 1999

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The urban redevelopment of the vast former industrial terrains on the North Banks of the IJ River is a rapturous process set in-between a city government and a large number of economic / political / cultural interest groups. Some of the defining notions of city planning, such as public interest, the role of government, the role of an architect, as well as the roles of law, of money and of (sub)culture, in this process have been, bent, twisted and redefined. Surprisingly, in this context it gave actuality to the idea of temporary use on a large scale; where it becomes a powerful instrument for city development.

Several strong forces created this climate.

The Municipal government of Amsterdam North has taken a remarkable stance; strong in its position as the owner of the land, it is engaging in projects and plans out of the ordinary in attempts to trigger the urban transformation in a desired direction. In this trial-and-error approach, or ‘dynamic planning’, innovation and creation of new development strategies becomes crucial. The Municipality has developed an understanding that temporary use can catalyze urban development and actively seeks ways of making this happen.  In 1999, it ran a public competition for a cultural programming of the 20.000 m2 former NDSM wharf, won by Kinetic North, a large collective of artists, craftsmen and cultural entrepreneurs originating from the squatting scene.

While the municipal government in the North acts as a top-down decisive factor, a bottom-up force has shaped up as well, in a form that we could call a culture of initiatives. Vast, desolated and scenic, the North Banks of the IJ are acting as a magnet for a multitude of ideas and projects reflecting the needs of the city of Amsterdam. Often, the initiatives come from marginal and weaker groups and programs, endangered by the commercial competition in the central city of Amsterdam.

This connects to another ‘background’ force at play. Making up for the disturbing effects of economic gentrification and cultural flattening that peaked in early 1990s, the City of Amsterdam has developed a fund to support breeding places for the most endangered experimental art and culture groups. In 2000, a generous portion of this fund has been employed to facilitate its largest, groundbreaking project - Kinetic North. As a massive and yet realised temporary use project, Kinetic North has shown ways to stimulate creativity from below, in the core of cultural, economic and social plans for the area.

The NDSM process, followed from the 1980’s till the present day, illustrates a tendency in which strict distinctions between formal and informal sector are diminishing and alternative groups are meeting half way with institutions.

At present, a flexible framework for the 25-year-long redevelopment on the Northern IJ Embankment is described by a Master plan. The specific spatial, legal and economic anatomy of the process of the North Bank is such that the temporary use often comes as a natural solution. Huge land plots and numerous buildings would remain empty for years, due to the complex dynamics of development. Present zoning regulations are very restrictive, while temporary use could help responding to them.

Still, there are issues related to temporary use that produce reservations. The main concern is how to ensure the temporality of the uses once permanent programs are ready to be realized. The cliché that renders temporary users equal to marginal players, hardly able to give any positive input to a sustainable urban development, forms a problem too. Given the sheer size of the Northern IJ-Embankment, there is also the practical problem of lack of expertise on temporary use in such conditions.

Municipal planners are aware of the criticisms that recent large urban projects in Amsterdam (Java, KNSM) have received: monotony, lack of public space or its commercialization. Temporary use is an ultimate possibility to convey to the public an attractive idea of the Northern Banks by bringing in a large variety of urban and public programs. Temporary forms of living, working, culture, education and leisure can help to create the seed-bed of urbanity of the new city in the North changing these out-of-the-way industrial terrains towards a city of possibilities.

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