Toespraak ter gelegenheid van het bezoek van de deelnemers aan het CLIP Network aan de Kolenkit, 21 september 2009

Ladies and gentlemen,

I’m delighted to welcome you here in Bos en Lommer, on behalf of the administration of the burrough of Bos en Lommer. My name is Jeroen Broeders, an I am the chairperson of the burrough of Bos en Lommer.

I sincerely hope that the upcoming days you will have some fruitfull discussions with regard to a more effective integration policy for migrants. We all need innovative concepts of integration policy at the local level. In a couple of minutes we are having a field visit to the Kolenkit, a district in Bos en Lommer. I hope that this visit will be intellectually stimulating for your discussions in the forthcoming days.

Bos en Lommer is the smallest council of Amsterdam, with 30.000 inhabitants. Bos en Lommer did change rapidly in the late eighties, early nineties of the last century, due to the consequences of migration. The massive influx of immigrants did change this neighbourhood from a white middle class society to a predominantly Mediterranean lower class society. Racism and right wing extremism were for some time rampant. And one of our right wing political parties of the eighties, the Centrum Democraten, established at that time a serious electoral stronghold in this neighbourhood. But the times are changing: right now Bos en Lommer is slowly developing towards a more affluent, multicultural society.

However, there are rather substantial differences within Bos en Lommer, with regard to the socio-economic position of our inhabitants. And one of our more problematic areas right now is the Kolenkit. And that’s were we’re going. But before we will start our little excursion, I would lik to tell you something about this neighbourhood.

But before I do so, I want to tell you first about this community centre "De Buskenblazer" were we are right now. In this area many first generation immigrants live. For these elderly, mostly Moroccan and Turkish citizens, there was not much to do. To be more precise: they didn’t have any place to meet, apart from the corners of the street. This year the center has opened its door and it is visited daily by dozens of elderly people of the neighbourhood. I would also like to thank them for their hospitality to receive us here.

Earlier this year it was announced that the Kolenkitbuurt, according to the Dutch ministry for community development, was considered to be the worst district of the Netherlands.Yet, in all likelihood you will not really experience that, when you walk around. More likely is that you will experience the neighbourhood as a post-war and perhaps even rather boring lower class neighbourhood like so many in Europe which were built just after the Second World War.There are no condemned houses and rampant crime like for instance in the banlieux of Paris is not visible.

Our Number One position of as “the worst district of the Netherlands” is not highly visible on the streets, but can only be discerned when you look at the statistics. The problems of the Kolenkit do particularly occur behind the closed doors of the neighbourhood. And those problems have a strong relations with the issue of migration.

The Kolenkitbuurt does suffer from a combination of problems. Almost ninety percent of the seven thousand residents in the district is of non-Dutch origin.. One third of the residents is poor, half of the children grow up in a poor family, forty percent of the children leave school without a secondary degree and thus without basic qualifications for the labour market. Furthermore, a large proportion of the population is unemployed.The families are often large and the houses are small, up to 50 square meters. Many residents feel unsafe in their neighbourhood due to the groups of youth. Add to this the rather isolated position of the Kolenkit, enclosed between a highway, a railway, a water way and a busy municipal road.

It is rather interesting to look at the history of this neighbourhood. The Kolenkit was build at the height of the housing shortage, shortly after the Second World. This was done primarily to house working families with many children and returnees from the so-called Dutch East Indies. Ironically this was one of the first mixed neighbourhoods in the Netherlands: a mix of Protestants, Catholics and socialists, all living in their own builbing blocks, built by different housing corporations.

Those were luxurious homes for those days, with modern kitchens and private shower facilities. And in those days, the early fifties of the twentieth century, this neighbourhood was considered as a successful example of fighting the housing shortage. However, it was poorly build, as a consequence of huge savings on construction and building materials. Every frivolity was removed, and a rather boring, uniform, non-diverse neighbourhood was erected.
In the seventies and eighties the early inhabitants moved to the next step in their housing careers. They also benefited from the prosperity of the sixties.

Slowly but surely the neighbourhood changed and early inhabitants moved to better, more spacious homes outside the Kolenkit. New groups of immigrants moved into the Kolenkitbuurt because up to 98 percent of the houses consisted of cheap rented house flats. The exodus started, in the end resulting in the population as we can see it today, with high unemployment and language deficiencies. At present more than 80% of the residents are of immigrant origin.

However, we sincerely believe that times are changing. Urban renewal is being carried out in an increasing speed. Eventually many of the homes in the area will be demolished and replaced by new, better and to a large extent bigger homes The renewal should be largely completed in 2013.We are trying to give residents the opportunity to stay in the neighbourhood when their houses are demolished, by offering them new houses, but at the same time we are trying to attract new inhabitants.

Building new houses is not enough though. Many of the inhabitants of the Kolenkit have a great social disadvantage. Often they have no work, they speak the language poorly, their children do poorly in school etcetera, etcetera. We also work on strengthening the position of those people. We do that a number of different ways. By a greater focus on integration and learning Dutch. By increasing employment opportunities through training. By avoiding deficiencies in language skills by sending children to school at an earlier age. And last but not least: by improving the financial position of families through debt reduction.

However, it takes time. Lots of time. Too much time. Yet I am certain that when you would come back here in about ten years time, this will most certainly be a cheerful neighbourhood with empowered residents. I sincerely hope that your meeting of the forthcoming days will help us develop ideas to accelerate the positive change in neighbourhoods like the Kolenkit.

Thank you for your attention.

Jeroen Broeders, 21 september 2009 (met Arthur Zielhorst)