What city do you want to live in?

A retrospective on Enter the Void Amsterdam

During a typical stormy and wet December weekend, Amsterdam hosted the second edition of Enter the Void . The four-day project aimed to exchange ideas between the European cities of Riga, Berlin, Budapest and Amsterdam. The international group set out to explore, research, and discuss the current situation of free public spaces for alternative subcultures in Amsterdam. With a new year ahead of us, let’s look back and take with us some of the inspirational highlights that came along:  a reportage on the first evening and second day of Enter the Void in Amsterdam. 

During the Enter the Void – ‘Struggling for Alternative Cultures’ programme at Pakhuis de Zwijger, Jaap Schoufour head of Bureau Broedplaatsen stated: “Amsterdam has always been popular with creatives, tourists and the Dutch themselves, however, this popularity has been putting a strain on the availability of space. There are simply no more old and empty buildings left in the centre.” As a result, it has become difficult to create new, non-commercial experimental playgrounds within the centre of the city: artistic spaces are being pushed to the edges of Amsterdam. With space becoming scarcer in Amsterdam, where do you find room for free expression and interaction? The second day of Enter the Void was therefore all about ‘mobilising’, ‘activating’ and ‘empowering’.

We the City
As an example of how to creatively work around Amsterdam’s space issue, Jesse Jop Jorg founder of We the City – was invited to present how his projects are opening up and give access to communal and public space in the city. Best known for the Benches Collective, Jesse initiated a number of projects that aim to reconnect people with their surroundings and each other. One of these projects is ROEF; an open-air rooftop festival that he organised in the summer of 2016. ROEF was initiated by Jesse after the realisation that although our streets are becoming more crowded every day, only 2% of the rooftops are being used in Amsterdam. “Such a shame, as it is a huge landscape that is being left unused”, according to Jesse, who further explains that the message of ROEF goes beyond the festival: “ROEF is not just about organising a festival, but using a festival as a catalyst to inform people of the potential and the availability of the unused rooftops. A festival as a means to create awareness for the empty top layer of our city. The aim is to create a green rooftop sky park that is accessible for everyone, that is sustainable and supports biodiversity in the city. Showing the city as a shared canvas that can be coloured by us all and makes public space into invitational space.”  

After the inspiring morning session with Jesse the delegates got on their bikes and moved to the NDSM to the underground venue of Klup X, a theatre, workspace and living room. At Klup X it was time for the Enter the Void delegation to articulate their goals under the guidance of Niels Arnbak, who presented the group with a workshop on how to write a manifest. Niels, a copywriter, activist and manifest writer, first of all, urged the group to start dreaming big! “European politics miss this idea of a Utopia, they do not dare to dream big and aim for the unfeasible. So, when writing a manifest don’t lose yourself in the details, but dare to go for the unrealistic. What are your aspirations for Enter The Void? What city do you want to live in and who do you want to mobilise and activate in order to get there? Create your Utopia!”.

Different cities resulted in different utopias. Under Niels’ supervision, the workshop clearly demonstrated the varied situations all four cities find themselves in, in regards to the struggle for public space. When asked about the aspirations and dreams for Budapest, the Hungarian group was very clear: “To have an atmosphere similar to that of Amsterdam, especially the city’s good relationship with their policy makers, such as Jaap Schoufour of Bureau Broedplaatsten.” Compared to the situation in Budapest, where the conversation with policy makers is either minimum or completely lacking, the situation of Amsterdam feels utopian. Judith Schanz, a representative from Budapest and one of the managers of KÉK’s Vacant City programme, explains:  

I believe that in Hungary we used to have very interesting examples of using public space for alternative cultures. However, the last couple of years the state has become worse and worse. The city is just not giving out space and this is further complicated by the fact that we have 23 different municipalities within the city, with their own set of non-transparent rules and ideas. On top of that, in contrast to other European cities, there has not been a real tradition of occupying or squatting spaces. A reason for this might be found in our history of multiple ownership, as most of the buildings do not belong to one family or one corporation, they are owned by multiple enterprises.”

Daniel Mayer of the Bánkitó Fesztivál in Budapest complements Judith:

Creating a dialogue with policy makers in Budapest is therefore extremely complex and as a result, the aim of the manifest is not to target the policy makers but to form a block against them. A manifest to mobilise the youth to become more active and involved and to give them new inspiration to proceed and speak up.

It may seem that, when it comes to the dialogue with policy makers, Amsterdam presents itself as a dreamlike scenario for cities such as Budapest. However, Amsterdam, as well as Berlin, struggles with the side effects that come along with these developments. Even though the local government is cooperative in the organisation of cultural events, there is an increasing demand for urban space that promotes initiatives for spontaneous self-expression and artistic experimentation that are less bound to bureaucracy. Free spaces like Klup X, which ironically, shortly after the visitation of the Enter the Void delegates, was shut down due to area redevelopments by the local government. 

The manifest workshop turned out to be a great means to start articulating these different and communal goals of the Enter the Void project. It highlighted the importance of the exchanges of knowledge and experience between the different European cities in their communal effort to open up the urban landscape to young people.

Biko & Raaf
During the third part of the day, the Enter the Void delegation was welcomed with open arms by Raaf, head of the local community centre Biko-Dynamo in the east of Amsterdam. His warm welcome and openness about his personal story were inspirational and touching to many. Raaf, after overcoming his struggle with mental illness, took up an empty building in Amsterdam-Oost, but had no idea what to do with it. To gather idea’s he posted a piece of paper in the window saying: “Do you have an idea what to do with this space?”. All neighbours that came in with a suggestion were given a copy of the front door key and open access to the building. It resulted in a local community centre that is complete run by its own members.

Empowering neighbours to do with a space as they wish, asks for a tremendous amount of trust. “Get to know one another!” was, therefore, the important message that Raaf wanted to carry out. His wish for Biko was for it to be a place that is about sharing and trusting in your fellow citizens. Biko brings people together from all layers of society. The building on Biko Square, consist of a giveaway clothing shop, a space for workshops, a communal office where people from the neighbourhood can use computers, and also a little studio for John: an Englishman with who we all fell in love. Within Biko he created a peaceful haven for those who feel the need to explore their woodcutting skills.

Visiting a community centre, such as Biko is, does not seem like an obvious choice for a project that focusses on underground subcultures, however, Raaf’s message transcends borders. His infectious positivity, solidarity and will power for Biko might be the perfect example of what Dāvis Kaņepe (Festival KOMETA Riga) two days earlier stated to be the essence of the Enter the Void project: “ETV is not just about creating free urban spaces, it’s also about creating free spaces in the minds of people.”

In April the next stop for the Enter the Void exchange will be Budapest. How are they experiencing city making and urban youth culture? To keep informed on the developments of the Enter the Void projects keep an eye on their Facebook-page.


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