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WALLEN 2020: a counter-manifesto





The Amsterdam Red Light District is a unique part of the city, with exceptional urban qualities and an exuberant diversity of urban functions, inhabitants and users.

The area is excessively layered. Throughout the centuries, all kinds of things have constantly been added, removed, expanded, changed, ignored and improved, to this very day.

Divergent, close-knit communities are permanently based in the area. Sex workers, artists, student fraternities, Coptic entrepreneurs, religious groups, a large Chinese and queer community.

Large crowds fill the area from the late afternoon onwards, enhancing a – for Amsterdam unusual – feeling of sensory intensity, limitless expectation, needless friction and positive disorientation. 

Compassion is part and parcel of the area's DNA. Organisations supporting addicts and the homeless. Unions standing side by side with sex workers. Medical facilities working for undocumented migrants.

Unique shops, initiatives and places operate and survive in the area. De Prael Brewery helps people with difficulty to get a job. Red Light Radio unites the avant-garde of the music scene. Dun Yong provides the neighbourhood and the city with the best Asian products.

Norms are continuously questioned, stretched and re-established here. The untameable crowds create a possibility for subversion, escaping and getting lost.

Heritage abounds, and there is plenty of room for experimentation without interference from strict UNESCO regulations. The historicising new building of Our Dear Lord in the Attic, a futuristic 3D-printed bridge over a historic canal and the exceptional programming of, in, and on the Old Church.

Debauchery and reflection, togetherness and loneliness, longing and aversion, experiment and repetition, a quick visit or a long-term connection. In this neighbourhood, visual and social contrasts follow each other quickly, in space and time.

The Red Light District is a breathtaking urban collage. While the rest of Amsterdam is rapidly becoming a homogeneous, smooth and predictable interior, this area offers physical and mental space to different worlds to coexist, collide, learn from each other and relate to each other again.





The Amsterdam Red Light District is a unique part of the city, with challenges like any neighbourhood, but with no problems that justify today's alarmist atmosphere. Currently, an 'out-of-control' discourse is being cultivated, which does not correspond with reality nor enjoys broad support in the neighbourhood. It does, however, dominate the media image.

This discourse feeds all sorts of reckless plans for large-scale intervention, which are starting to pose a concrete threat to the neighbourhood, and especially to the position of sex workers. In reality, of course, the problem is not the sex workers' presence, but the rampant growth of hotel rooms across the city. This directly results in rising numbers of tourists released onto the inner city's public spaces.
In addition, it's mostly the less socially inclined property owners and entrepreneurs who are the problem. Homes are rented out at exorbitant prices, or converted into short-stay apartments. Brothel owners charge extortionate rental rates for the sex workers’ windows. 'All you can drink' tour boats dump their drunk guests and waste in the neighbourhood. Unscrupulous financial extraction at the expense of the neighborhood's social and cultural capital.





The Amsterdam Red Light District is a unique part of the city. Appreciate the unique qualities, strengthen them where necessary, and, above all, let it be what it is and what it wants to be.

Stop the alarmism. Stop the bourgeois, revanchist moralism that seeks to draw the last bit of unpolished urban space into the rest of the city.

Stand side by side with the local communities. Involve the sex workers in everything. Make sure to be able to support them when they need it. Ask the art scene, monasteries and queer bars for their needs.
Give the layeredness space to extend. Cherish the expectant and the unexpected. The intensity, complexity and flaws. The stereotypes and the confusion.

Stop with the metaphor of the jungle as an analysis, and with the metaphor of the garden as a solution. It is the center of the city, and doesn't belong to old men with an opinion.

Ban Airbnb and cruise ships. Expropriate hotels. Make agreements with housing corporations De Key, Ymere, Stadgenoot and Eigen Haard about the allocation and rental prices of their properties.

Use iconic real estate owned by the municipality to steer developments. Offer new generations of Amsterdammers an opportunity to stay or come and live in the area. Make room for new experiments.

Stop moralistic campaigns, such as We Live Here and 0.0% zone, that only perpetuate the amusement park feeling and the misplaced duality between resident and visitor.

Strengthen the resilience of unique shops, initiatives and places. Identify which of them may need more support and give them a place at the decision-making table.

Limit those activities of entrepreneurs which impact the neighborhood in a negative way. Prohibit all commercial guided tours and tour boats.

Make the neighborhood a place for experimentation. Make sure there is room for all kinds of communities to express themselves and grow.

Stop reckless interventions, and embrace change, wonder and confusion.





This manifesto was written in March 2020 by urban researcher and architecture critic René Boer, who lives and works on the Wallen, in response to the one-sided discourse about the area.

This manifesto's ideas about the Red Light District have been strongly shaped by the many conversations with people in the neighborhood, but unlike other statements or campaigns, does not claim to represent "local residents" in any way.

This manifesto was written just before the outbreak of the corona crisis. At the moment, the Red Light District is empty and deserted. Hopefully, ordinary life will return soon, with this manifesto as a starting point for a new perspective on the area.