Milica Topalovic, Marc Neelen, Ana Dzokic (Stealth group)

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We are all developers

From squatter to cultural entrepreneur

decade of transformation of Amsterdam squatting network

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“One of the first things to decide before squatting is what type of space you or your group is looking for. A small apartment suitable for one person or a large building to provide a group of people with living and working space?..
Cycle around the area(s) of your choice a few times and write down all the addresses of places you suspect are not in use. Patrol these addresses at different times. Check if the lights come on at night. Ring the doorbell and wait to see if someone answers it. Check the letterbox. Stick a matchstick in the door. This will fall down if the door is opened, and this is a good way to check if there are people going in and out or not. You can also picket the place, but if you want to do it properly, this can be very time-consuming and may also arouse suspicion.*0

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A short history of the squatter
(Lat.: squatterus vulgaris holandis)

The intriguing fact why the squatting movement has obtained so much foothold in Holland, roots in the particular combination of the ruling social democrats’ believe in a modernistic designable society after WW2 and the level of saturation this resulted in after some decades of successful implementation of these beliefs. A counter movement was born, questioning the new life standards and - the meaning of life. The avant-garde was formed by the so-called Provos*1, who had new ideas about the functioning society and the city, and had a strong desire to take life’s destination in their own hands. Provos, apart from creating a movement of supporters (squatters), also created an interesting movement of influential opponents (Koolhaas, for instance).

“The combination of an acute scarcity of houses and the mentioned shift of culture [ a trend to take hold on ones’ life own destination ]  shaped the conditions for a new form of activism: squatting. The scarcity in housing legitimated the act of squatting. An important factor in the origination of squatting was the improved accessibility of high education, which for the first time in history attracted large groups of young people to come to the city and look for housing space.” *2 

The start however was not easy at all. Squatted buildings were often cleaned-out after a short time. The change came in 1970, when a few court decisions more or less legalized squatting in reaction to the housing scarcity. After a while, the movement managed to create an infrastructure to provide assistance ranging from consultancy-hours up to resistance squads.

The eighties turned the tide again, as the juridical possibilities for owners of premises to start up a clearing procedure opened up dramatically and many squatted premises came under threat of clearing. In reaction, a real squatting movement started to form itself, able to exercise respectable political influence. This also resulted in the a division between ‘political’ squatters and those who were mainly interested in an affordable living space – which ultimately led to sharp conflicts splitting up the movement in the middle of the eighties. Recent urban renewal rounds in for instance Amsterdam brought another blow to the movement. Premises were cleared out in favor of ‘high standard’ project development – industrial lofts apparently had become fashionable. Now, to some extend, the squatting movement finds itself ironically enough in a government-protected reserve, not to the satisfaction of all representatives of the movement.

Transformation of the squatting network

During a few decades the squatting network evolved from pressure group fighting for affordable housing and an alternative lifestyle, to a ‘respected’ component of Amsterdam cultural life.

In response to emptying of their buildings, during the 198o’s and early 1990’s, when Amsterdam started a new round of urban renewal, the squatting network was forced to get a much higher level of organization - and a good PR machine. In many ways, the network is responsible for the city’s alternative culture and is gradually recognized as such by the mainstream city and cultural institutions.

The IJ Industrial Buildings Guild
The IJ Industrial Buildings Guild is a network consisting of 18 dockland premises on the southern banks of the IJ in Amsterdam. It was founded to represent the common interests of the users, which squatted these buildings one by one since 1978 - artists and craftspeople who had been forced to leave areas of urban renewal in order to seek cheap working spaces elsewhere. Its foundation was an immediate reaction to the AWF (Amsterdam Waterfront Finance group) which initiated an ambitious plan for re-development of the IJ-Embankments. ‘The users of the self-managed buildings along the IJ decided to set up an Alternative Waterfront: the IJ industrial Buildings Guild. Amongst the 24 guild members are well known buildings and locations as the Silo, Vrieshuis Amerika, Ruigoord and Het Veem.’

Through self-management (in Dutch called zelfbeheer) they developed with minimal financial expenses working and living possibilities in these buildings. The Guild tries to consolidate (legalize) the position of these buildings and the culture they represent.

“The Guild's buildings have achieved nothing short of an economic miracle over the last 15 years. When they first moved in, many of the original users had been unemployed for many years. 80% of the users of these premises have eventually become financially independent within a period of five to ten years. The buildings' economic success has also had a positive influence both on their direct environment and further afield. This particularly applies to premises located in districts undergoing development. These buildings also stimulate cultural production and enterprise.
Meanwhile The Guild has become a 'tool' to define and propagate its growing range of ideas. It functions as a point of contact and as a litigating legal body. It has entered the political arena, it participates in advisory councils, initiates research, organizes publications and congresses and contributes to the development of urban theory.”
In 1996 the Guild decided to publish a book about their visions for re-use of warehouse buildings in North-West Europe and particularly in Amsterdam. The book, 'The Turning Tide', has been published in 1997.

The Fund for Breeding Places by the City of Amsterdam *3

As a result of the urban renewal policy and the new housing areas in a/o the Oostenlijk Havengebied (Eastern Harbour District) and the IJ-Oevers (IJ-River embankments), several housing/working-premises [ hybrid buildings for combined housing / working, note ed. ] have vanished in Amsterdam. They are services, which have an important role as a breeding place for creativity for artists, craftsmen and cultural entrepreneurs.

Breeding places of creativity are offering space to activities in the field of the plastic arts, architecture, theatre arts, design, film and all imaginable disciplines. Often, they also have a role in complementing the service level of a city neighborhood. These services are often characterized by large, high spaces with a low rent level, and therefore can give possibilities to those groups who are not in the possibility to achieve a position in the real estate market for business spaces.

In a reaction to the mentioned developments, the users of housing/ working-premises in Amsterdam wrote a letter to the City Council. This letter resulted in December 1998 in a decree in which the City Council made an appeal to the Mayor and his College of Alderman to give proposals for alternative locations for payable housing/working-premises, and on the base of this, to come to a fast realization of them. In response to this decree of the City Council, the Breeding Places project has started.

Aim of the Breeding Places project is ‘to accomplish the realization of small scale infrastructure for (mainly) non-commercial cultural entrepreneurs  -- among which mainly (semi) professional artists – and to achieve conditions for a sustainable form of this infrastructure in the city’.

Cultural entrepreneurship
“From the stack of statements, pamphlets and appeals to the city council on the threatened and cleared-out ‘sanctuaries’, (dutch ‘vrijplaatsen’) a couple of sentences have been picked which gave a hold for a policy: one concentrated on services for ateliers and starting companies. Politically, this sounds good. From the cultural quarter, it was pointed out that there was an enormous lack of atelier spaces and that Amsterdam gets less attractive to ‘emerging talent’. The inhabitants and users of cleaned-out premises, from now on, were appointed ‘artists’, from the government’s perspective.

To turn the tide, in December 1998 the start was made with the ‘breeding places’ policy. (…) In a reaction to it, each start-up entrepreneur, cultural institution or group of artists seems to be calling itself a ‘breeding place’ or ‘sanctuary’.

This ultimately demonstrates the contradiction, which exists between the thinking of the government and a large part of the inhabitants and users of sanctuaries. The existence of sanctuaries is not of significance because they will provide the establishment with new ideas, forms and insights.” *4

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see also thinkpool: "We are all developers (at hart)"

1_ Provos  (“provokers”) _ an eccentric group of artists, hooligans and visionary anarchists dedicated to transform the sleepy Dutch city into an explosive Magical Centre. The Provos – non-violent, anti-authoritarian, agit-propagandists as well as ecologists before their time – anticipated Europe’s just-around-the-corner youth protest movements by replacing Karl Marx by Groucho Marx. (…) Masters of civil disobedience and media manipulation, and experts in transforming art from decoration into an expression of independence, the Provos ignited the spark of social change that turned Amsterdam in one of the most humane and livable cities on the planet.” (source: Matteo Guarnaccia in Abitare 417, 2002, page 264)
2_ source: Laat 1000 vrijplaatsen bloeien)
3_ source:
4_ taken from: Laat 1000 vrijplaatsen bloeien

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