Reclaiming Space: the Message on the Wall

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“Dear people. Terrorism is a Media Tool. Do not follow this fear. Love thy neighbour.”

This photograph was taken last summer in the newly gentrified area of Osdorp. Since the 1970s Osdorp, a suburb of Amsterdam, has been the home of a growing number of labour immigrants (and their offspring) from Morocco and Turkey. They initiated rapid urbanization in a multicultural fashion, which culminated in the 1990s when Osdorp started suffering from the image of being poor, unsafe and criminal, due to the high number of social housing estates and the concentration of disadvantaged and unemployed inhabitants in the area. After the turn of the century with the rise of figures in the Netherlands as Pim Fortuyn, Ayaan Hirshi-Ali, Geert Wilders and terrible events as the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the London Underground bombings, the area became classified as a dangerous Muslim area. The municipality decided to rid Osdorp of its reputation as ‘dish-city’ and ‘headscarfland’ by replacing outdated blocks of flats with a variety of homes including luxury homes and high-rises surrounded by tall gates.

Municipality forces attempted to claim the photo’s area by renaming the streets after people and places from the Dutch province of ‘Zeeland’. Thoughtful stories have been added to the signs, explaining how the street name was a village that drowned in 1511 or a leading figure in the 20th century catholic labour movement. In fact most street signs now mention the word catholic, Dutch or have some reference to the Netherlands’ eternal struggle against water. Nothing in this now very shiny and pretty expensive neighbourhood refers back to the area’s character of the past fifty years. Nothing municipality directed anyway. There are still a number of Turkish bakers, shisha café’s, Halal butchers and of course messages on the wall written with children’s chalk.

Ultimately, this message is not only making a beautiful statement, however, is simultaneously reclaiming the space it was written on. Walls surrounding this building now share both a reference to Dutch history and a solution for the challenge which the Netherlands is facing, and will face for the coming years. Therefore this text warrants all the attention it can get. It is reclaiming space by addressing the neighbourhood’s underlying problems, which were ‘moved out’ with the renovation of the area.

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