By Karel Berkhout
City council finance chief Lodewijk Asscher adds his vision: a walk through Amsterdam's China Town and the city's old ramparts, followed by a cappuccino next to the city's oldest church, the 13th century Oude Kerk.
And at present, the Damrak, the main street between the train station and the city center, is a seedy collection of cheap restaurants and gaudy neon signs. And while the Oudekerksplein, in the heart of the city's red light district, has plenty of brothel windows, there is nowhere to get a cup of decent coffee.
The area is the very heart of Amsterdam, a fact that was underscored last week when the government nominated the city center's 17th century canals for recognition as a United Nations World Heritage site.
The city council has had enough of the brothels, the shops selling drug paraphernalia, the gambling halls and the souvenir stands that currently clog up the area. It feels the district has fallen prey to organized criminals engaged in the trafficking of drugs and women. Many of the area's establishments are suspected to be fronts for money laundering.
It is not the first time Amsterdam has tackled the red light district's "criminal fraternity." In 2003, a new law gave councils the authority to investigate whether entrepreneurs requesting business permits had criminal connections. Since then, a number of permits have been revoked and several brothel-owners have been bought out by the city council.
"We will continue to be tough in tackling criminality," Cohen says. The number of prostitutes' windows will be reduced by half, to around 250. They will be concentrated on two streets only. The same goes for the coffee shops where cannabis is sold. Their number will also be halved, to 38.
In addition, the plan calls for the closure of shops offering cheap phone calls, souvenirs and other small-scale businesses related to the sex industry, although this will happen on a voluntary basis.
Amsterdam's city council has allocated between 40 million and 50 million (between $51.3 million and $64.2 million) for the renovation plan over the next 10 years. This money will go towards redesigning streets in the city center, among other things. A complete transformation of the area, however, including underground car parks for luxury hotels, will cost many times more than the sum appropriated. That financing will have to come from housing corporations, project developers, banks and shops.
Private parties have already shown interest, says Asscher. "The phone is ringing all the time. I have already been approached by a few up-market retail chains. And recently I had a call from a snack-bar owner who wants to open something a bit more upmarket. He realizes that he can make more money that way."
All these initiatives and plans are fine with Cohen. "We will handle the criminals. Businesses and people living in the area will have to do the rest," says the mayor.
Stay informed with our free news services:
|All news from SPIEGEL International||Twitter | RSS|
|All news from Zeitgeist section||RSS|
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2008
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH