Amsterdam School of International Business

Research Lab

Cities and Visitors: Moving Amsterdam Zuidoost Mapping the Imaginary (Field Lab)

In general, European urban peripheries have not had a positive reputation over the last decades. In contraposition with the liveliness of urban city centres, peripheral areas have been considered, at their best, as boring places with less facilities and a minimum of infrastructure. However, and in the meanwhile, other voices have been arising. It is not for nothing that in his inaugural lecture entitled ‘The emancipation of the peripheries’ the Dutch Chief Government Architect Floris Alkemade advocated for the recognition of the so-called peripheral areas as the most vivid layers of our contemporary cities (Alkemade, 2016). According to all those voices, it is especially in the peripheries where less visible dynamics are taking place and where more sustainable urbanism should get a chance to be developed.

It was with a very similar convincement of the latest that we started our research project on Amsterdam Zuidoost (Amsterdam Southeast) Identity, Image and Reputation in September 2014, already four years ago. From previous research we have concluded that Zuidoost had been burdened along a couple of decades not only by a bad reputation but also by its isolation as a truly unknown ‘hinterland’. Being geographically an exclave of the city, Amsterdam Zuidoost was literally outside the city map.

The project was initiated in the framework of urban field labs and is still part of a bigger research on Urban Management, coordinated by the interfaculty arrangement Urban Management and in cooperation with different research centres, including CAREM from the Faculty of Business and Economics. Led by Dr. Núria Arbonés Aran, it is currently also part of the international research programme at AMSIB, at CEDIS, and serves among other things as a sample for international and intercity cooperation with Facultat Blanquerna Universitat Ramon Llull in Barcelona, ESGCI in Paris, and in the very near future with University San Marcos in San Diego, United States. The team includes experts in different areas, such as film by Maarten van der Burg, architecture by Vanessa Catalano, digital epistemology by Simeona Petkova, consumer urban behaviour by Sandy Rathod, and last but not least a broad arrange of perspectives by junior researcher Diana Mueller and graduating student Iegor Trieshchov.

The common denominator with all different parties has been the need to gain a better understanding of current urban dynamics and to do action research that can contribute to specific applied improvements. Taking those as a point of departure, we started to shape our design research in Amsterdam Zuidoost in cooperation with our partners. Since then we have been working more and more in the area, in June 2018 we opened our Research Lab Cities & Visitors: Mapping the Imaginary on Zuidoost in the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences in Fraijlemaborg, (Amsterdam) Zuidoost. This has given us room and space to exhibit some of the most important findings and to work on a physical digital map. This map is intended to show not only the physical layout of the area but especially the ideas that have been shaping it.

Taking place and having a space have revealed to be an indispensable step in a research project such as ours. The making of the map has become a tool to share the insights we have been acquiring together with many actors in the area. Indeed, from the very beginning, we have been able to come in contact and connect with committed people who have the capacity to transmit and unveil core values embodied in Amsterdam Zuidoost. Those people, and their work, helped us to understand that Amsterdam Zuidoost can be experienced as a stimulating place that enables different audiences to engage in a process of empowerment and improvement.

In our current research design we therefore consistently emphasize the need of connecting the different cores of interest that have been brought up on different occasions by different actors during symposiums, research and calibration sessions or during the many conversations and observations we have shared. Those cores embrace a multiplicity of dimensions: from sustainable and inclusive development of the public space, including micro transport, to multifaceted and diverse cultural, educational and leisure offers in their most broader sense.

As such we have committed ourselves to using our presences in the area to contribute to this connection by a) continuing to promote interest in, and acquiring knowledge of Zuidoost; b) by respecting and embracing its versatility and c) by eliminating barriers in its layout.

In all three elements we first adopted the metaphor of a guided tour that provides a physical and mental map to share. We relate such a map to an existing tradition of what we like to call ‘translators’ of the area, people such as guide Jenny van Dalen, photographer Hans Mooren, rapper Gikkels or architect Peter Dautzenberg. These are the people who recognized the beauty of places such as the Bijlmer before others, and who taught many to appreciate (and to conserve) them. In this sense, their work has contributed to a revalorisation of Bijlmer heritage and to a more widespread awareness of its value.

However, there are also concerns that this revalorisation could result in excessively lucrative operations that may be detrimental to the current residents of Zuidoost. The renovation of the Amsterdamse Poort and the transformation of the emblematic ‘Zandkasteel’ [Sand Castle] building into luxury apartments has been met with mixed feelings, as these works could affect accessibility and increase prices throughout the area. More than ever, especially in relation to point ‘b’ above, concerted efforts need to be made to ensure that investments will improve collective public spaces and will build on an inclusive and diverse cultural and historical awareness. By mapping tensions and contrasting places’ imaginaries we are aiming to contribute to the development of sustainable plans and metropolitan ambitions that include, reflect upon and safeguard the versatility of Amsterdam Zuidoost.

Published by  Amsterdam School of International Business 29 February 2024