Techno-Gentrification: act 2

Techno-Gentrification: act 2

Text by Jean-Hugues Kabuiku and Mathys Rennela
Illustration: collage of photographs from the Coronation riots (30 April 1980), Vondelstraat riots (March 1980), and the Nieuwemarkt riots (1975).

Part 3. Neoliberal urban planning and the end of the Dutch anti-capitalist counter-culture

While nightlife can serve as an agent of urban-capitalism, urban planning has itself been used to divorce nightlife from strong forms of anti-capitalist counter-cultures. In this section we study the particular case of the Netherlands, and how anarchist movements were stripped from their hold on alternative cultural spaces, which at night often partially function as nightclubs.

The Dutch squatting culture, which dates back to the 1960s and was spearheaded by anarchist groups in the 1980s, was brought to a halt in 2010 when squatting became a punishable offense. Between October 2010 and December 2014, 529 people have been arrested for the act of occupying derelict buildings, under the new law criminalizing the occupation of building. [1]https://web.archive.org/web/20190629160016/http://www.cnsjournal.org/the-vacancy-crunch-the-current-housing-crisis-in-the-netherlands-and-the-repression-of-squatting/

Multipurpose cultural spaces (often used as club spaces)[2]A non-exhaustive list of such spaces: De Grote Broek in Nijmegen, the Landbouwbelang in Maastricht, the Poortgebouw in Rotterdam, ORKZ in Groningen, Effenaar in Eindhoven, ACU in Utrecht, OT301, NDSM … Continue reading were legalized in an effort to tame social conflicts, triggered by high profile evictions and violent repressions of squatting. The institutionalization of the squats, which became “legal”, is a good example of public policy which aims to destroy alternative spaces in the name of social cohesion.[3]Cracking Under Pressure: Narrating the Decline of the Amsterdam Squatters’ Movement (Solidarity and Identity), Lynn Owens

An anti-kraak (anti-squat) system, a form of controlled squatting, was put in place to occupy empty buildings with tenants who obtained housing rights below Dutch standards (such as a 2 weeks eviction notice, or poor maintenance). Weakening anarchist movements in the process, this public policy exemplifies the Dutch “polderdenken” (Polder model),[4]The Polder model was born from the fear of Dutch Roman Catholics and Calvinists that the liberal state would impede on their religious practices. a model of political organization which operates by supposedly creating a political context in which no one gets the upper hand, in the name of a culture of consensus which prevents any radical change of society and strives to maintain the status quo, while pretending that everybody was treated equitably and fairly. This translates in a culture of consensus decision-making which forbids any radical movement to deeply change society. [5]Utopian Aspects Of Social Movements In Postmodern Times: some examples of DIY politics in the Netherlands – Saskia poldervaart  

This model can be witnessed in the 1960s in the Netherlands when the most left-wing cabinet in the history of the country so far, started subsidizing leftist action groups involved in policy making under prime-minister den Uyl (1973-1977), who later regretted this decision: “by subsidizing them, the sting was taken out of the action groups”.[6]Jansen van Galen, John.De lieve burgervrede [The Lovely Peace of the Citizens] De Groene Amsterdammer, April 14,1999.[7]Utopian Aspects of Social Movements in Postmodern Times: Some Examples of DIY Politics in the Netherlands – Saskia Poldervaart

In the span of a decade, the Dutch squat scene went from one of the most powerful anarchist counter-powers in Europe to a movement which is either very pacified or completely criminalized. As a result, there is much more pressure on alternative spaces.[8]https://www.oneworld.nl/lezen/discriminatie/sociaal-onrecht/wooncrisis-expert-cody-hochstenbach-we-investeren-in-stenen-niet-in-mensen/ Amsterdam is now the third most expensive city to rent an apartment in, after Paris and London.[9]https://nltimes.nl/2022/01/12/amsterdams-apartment-rent-third-highest-europe Former squats such as OT301 (Overtoom 301, Amsterdam) and Vrankrijk (Spuistraat 216, Amsterdam) are now in highly coveted neighborhoods, and struggle with neighbor complaints. 

And as in the Dutch leftist political context, those spaces are not only cultural but also used as community spaces and spaces of political organization, the impact of the anti-squat policy on maintaining the status quo is two-fold: this policy not only facilitates capital growth (with real estate development), but it wipes out the main driving force of anti-capitalism in the country. And through the anti-squatting rules, local authorities and parapublic organizations have acquired a monopoly on the development of cultural institutions.

The most emblematic example of marriage between urban capitalism and queerwashing is the now-closed but soon-to-be-reopened club De School in Amsterdam, which in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, found itself dealing with years of unadressed systemic issues, from sexual assault cover-ups to widespread discrimination at the door.[10]https://dwellerforever.blog/2020/09/what-went-wrong-at-de-school 

While the staff of De School tried to argue that all those “blind spots” were due to individual failures,[11]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYpucKOnZbM the club actually worked perfectly as a cog of the urban-capitalist machine. The former technical school, owned by the municipality of Amsterdam, was offered to the team behind De School with subventions and the explicit aim of providing a new cultural space for the neighborhood of De Baarsjes, at a time when its gentrification was nearly completed but it was still viewed as a “bad neighborhood”, due to its predominantly racialized population of Turkish and Moroccan descent.[12]https://www.oneworld.nl/lezen/essay/club-de-school-was-een-schoolvoorbeeld-van-gentrificatie/ 

On a city-wide scale, the municipality of Amsterdam aimed to attract a new class of young and trendy creative workers outside of the highly densely populated city center, in a city which has over the years noticeably tried to appeal to the cultural needs of its new class of tech workers. Additionally, half of the city of Amsterdam is heavily ethnically segregated. Racialized Dutch people of Turkish and Moroccan descent are much more likely to live near each other, while Dutch white people are more spread out across the city.[13]https://www.parool.nl/nieuws/geography-professor-amsterdam-is-threatening-to-become-a-place-for-the-super-rich~b995b744/[14]In this work, we intentionally reject the most common Dutch terminology for ethnic data, as it uses “Dutch origin” as a marker of whiteness, and perpetuates the othering of racialized people in … Continue reading

De School contributed to the municipality’s strategy for “improving” the image of the neighborhood of De Baarsjes, where young white couples were the main driving force of gentrification and the specific target of the rebranding of the neighborhood as “family-friendly”. 

De School claimed a focus on “community-building”, while championing a vision of queerness as an aesthetic (rather than a lived experience). In an interview for Het Parool, De School’s booker and most visible head staff member Luc Mastenbroek stated that the door policy was such that the door staff would “rather choose someone who wants to dance in shorts and a harness in the club than for a group of drunk men.” Putting in perspective the accusations of widespread door discrimination against Dutch men of Moroccan and Turkish descent, De School’s pinkwashing functions as a tool to subjugate the local population and dictates who is welcomed in the neighborhood.

Ironically, the nightlife industry’s association with urban capitalism is what periodically puts it in crisis, regardless of whether this association is voluntary. We explore this perspective in the next section, taking the current state of Paris’ nightlife industry as an example.

Part 4. Paris’ nightlife crisis, a result of the city’s urban redevelopment plans 

A petition called  «Paris, quand la nuit meurt en silence» (Paris, when nightlife dies in silence) gathered more than 16 000 signatures in 2019. This petition led to a meeting between actors of nightlife and the then-mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë. Nothing came out of this besides the implementation of a “mediation” team between the party collectives and the new residents of the affordable housing units next to which the city’s nightlife was taking place. Noise isolation is a recurring issue, and while local authorities are supposed to help establishments make proper investments in noise isolation, the aid is not distributed in an objective manner. France’s new law on noise disturbances brought many venues’ owners to their knee, by effectively discriminating on who is worthy of organising nightlife with the walls of the city of light.[15]https://www.streetpress.com/rubriques/quand-la-nuit-meurt-en-silence

Although this process has been accelerated in the last decade, it finds its roots in the bitter struggle of the Parisian techno scene, dating back to the early nineties. In “Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music” by Matthew Collin, an organizer and witness of this witch-hunt recalls:

“So the authorities created a space for [this witch hunt] by on the one hand being very hostile against techno music, and on the other being quite tolerant about free parties. Also because France is a big country and a rural country, there is a lot of space in the countryside. Germany is the same, but in Germany it didn’t happen like that because there was space for techno parties and for techno music, so they didn’t have so many free parties.”

Promoters and collectives which organize electronic music events are pushed away due to the rampant gentrification of Paris. Numerous techno parties are now organized in impoverished Paris suburbs, mainly in the “Seine-Saint-Denis” department (One of France’s poorest). For instance the online music broadcasting platform Boiler Room organized a massive party in Le Bourget, with last minute tickets going for 44,00€, when the median salary in the area is 26k€ a year. Factoring into account that public transportation is lacking during the night, those raves are highly unaffordable for most citizens.[16]https://www.telerama.fr/sortir/arnaud-idelon-tout-le-monde-ne-peut-pas-payer-25-euros-pour-faire-la-fete-dans-un-hangar-froid-7007904.php At the same time and in the whole country, a distinction is made between those raves, happening with the approval (and often funding) of local authorities, and the “unwanted ones”, mostly organized by anarchists who are faced with astonishing levels of police brutality, most infamously at a rave in Redon where dozens of partygoers were hurt, with one of them losing a hand during the police raid.[17]https://www.amnesty.fr/liberte-d-expression/actualites/france-violences-policieres-pendant-une-freeparty-redon

Paris is one of the smallest metropolises in the Western world. For comparison, Berlin is approximately 9 times bigger than Paris, and London is 15 times bigger. However, both Berlin and London are less densely populated than Paris. 

In the middle of the ’90s, the idea of an “axis of techno” was floating around, originally building bridges mainly between Berlin, New York City and London. While those cities integrated their suburbs without any second thought, to this day the limits of Paris are bound by its beltway: this limits the spatialization of capital. Density can be an advantage when one wants to maintain and increase real estate market value, but is a major disadvantage when one has the ambition to capitalize on culture to hike up real estate prices. 

Hence the creation in 2010 of the Greater Paris Metropolitan area Society  (Société du Grand Paris). Local authorities work hand-in-hand with private real estate investors, vowing that any urban development project should be preceded by a transitional urban planning operation. Before an urban development project is settled in a given space, buildings are of no use to anyone: they can be squatted and lose their value. Cultural venues play a key role for institutions which see young executives as key to the economic development of Paris’ suburbs.[18]Mickaël Correia, “L’envers des friches culturelles – Quand l’attelage public-privé fabrique la gentrification”. 

This effort is concomitant to large urbanism plans for the 2024 Summer Olympics (with an Olympic village in Saint-Denis),[19]https://www.paris2024.org/en/ and the development of the Grand Paris Express, a large transport project which aims to move away from the currently star-shaped transportation network and cut down transportation time in the Greater Paris, with a new network of automated metro lines.[20]https://www.societedugrandparis.fr/info/grand-paris-express-largest-transport-project-europe-1061 Zoning laws and the natural limits of the city prevent massive real estate developments within the walls of Paris, and the prospect of opportunities in the Greater Paris is attracting a lot of investors. While the real estate prices in the districts of Paris are rather stagnant (with a mean price above 10000 euros/sqm), there are a lot of opportunities for high yield investments, with an average increase of +25% of real estate prices in the neighborhoods around the new and future metro stations of the Grand Paris Express, breaking the 5000 euros/sqm bar, and doing so outside of Paris.[21]https://www.meilleursagents.com/wikimmo/grand-paris-les-prix-immobiliers-station-par-station-de-metro/

First pushed away from the city of Paris, the nightlife industry is progressively moving away from what used to be its beating heart. This escape to the suburbs is by design a process which will inevitably reach an end. What will happen to nightlife then?

References

References
1 https://web.archive.org/web/20190629160016/http://www.cnsjournal.org/the-vacancy-crunch-the-current-housing-crisis-in-the-netherlands-and-the-repression-of-squatting/
2 A non-exhaustive list of such spaces: De Grote Broek in Nijmegen, the Landbouwbelang in Maastricht, the Poortgebouw in Rotterdam, ORKZ in Groningen, Effenaar in Eindhoven, ACU in Utrecht, OT301, NDSM and Vrankrijk in Amsterdam and the Ruigoord village
3 Cracking Under Pressure: Narrating the Decline of the Amsterdam Squatters’ Movement (Solidarity and Identity), Lynn Owens
4 The Polder model was born from the fear of Dutch Roman Catholics and Calvinists that the liberal state would impede on their religious practices.
5 Utopian Aspects Of Social Movements In Postmodern Times: some examples of DIY politics in the Netherlands – Saskia poldervaart
6 Jansen van Galen, John.De lieve burgervrede [The Lovely Peace of the Citizens] De Groene Amsterdammer, April 14,1999.
7 Utopian Aspects of Social Movements in Postmodern Times: Some Examples of DIY Politics in the Netherlands – Saskia Poldervaart
8 https://www.oneworld.nl/lezen/discriminatie/sociaal-onrecht/wooncrisis-expert-cody-hochstenbach-we-investeren-in-stenen-niet-in-mensen/
9 https://nltimes.nl/2022/01/12/amsterdams-apartment-rent-third-highest-europe
10 https://dwellerforever.blog/2020/09/what-went-wrong-at-de-school
11 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WYpucKOnZbM
12 https://www.oneworld.nl/lezen/essay/club-de-school-was-een-schoolvoorbeeld-van-gentrificatie/
13 https://www.parool.nl/nieuws/geography-professor-amsterdam-is-threatening-to-become-a-place-for-the-super-rich~b995b744/
14 In this work, we intentionally reject the most common Dutch terminology for ethnic data, as it uses “Dutch origin” as a marker of whiteness, and perpetuates the othering of racialized people in the Netherlands. We also reject the description of racialized groups by their ethnic background, e.g. grouping Dutch citizens of Moroccan descent under the term “People of Moroccan background”, because it strips racialized people from self-determination of their (national) identity.
15 https://www.streetpress.com/rubriques/quand-la-nuit-meurt-en-silence
16 https://www.telerama.fr/sortir/arnaud-idelon-tout-le-monde-ne-peut-pas-payer-25-euros-pour-faire-la-fete-dans-un-hangar-froid-7007904.php
17 https://www.amnesty.fr/liberte-d-expression/actualites/france-violences-policieres-pendant-une-freeparty-redon
18 Mickaël Correia, “L’envers des friches culturelles – Quand l’attelage public-privé fabrique la gentrification”.
19 https://www.paris2024.org/en/
20 https://www.societedugrandparis.fr/info/grand-paris-express-largest-transport-project-europe-1061
21 https://www.meilleursagents.com/wikimmo/grand-paris-les-prix-immobiliers-station-par-station-de-metro/