From Amsterdam to REFILL

Doing nothing is no option

The city of Amsterdam calculated that leaving an empty plot vacant equals a cost of €15.000 – €40.000 per year. Vandalism, litter, squatting,… it’s costly business. But this was not the only reason for them to engage in temporary use. Jurgen Hoogendoorn, policy advisor of the city of Amsterdam and one of the founding fathers of the city’s breedingplace policy, puts it like this at our REFILL-meeting in Amersfoort: “Counterculture and temporary use are the research department of every city“.

Ask the help of the crowd

Jurgen initiated the first map of vacant plots and buildings in Amsterdam. Instead of waiting until they were in possession of all information, they decided to ask the help of the crowd through Facebook and Twitter. People could signal empty lots on the map themselves.

temporary filling amsterdam2

Media picked up the virtual buzz and the results were massive: 1.000 visitors in 1 year and 100 ideas for what to do with those empty lots. About 1/3 of the proposals  were on urban farming, another 1/3 on leisure activities as a temporary beach, camping, bar,…

Amsterdam lessons

Speaking out of experience for years in one of Europe’s most interesting cities, Jurgen could pass on some lessons to the REFILL-network:

  • Don’t try to control the process
  • Set up an open dialogue with society
  • Be vulnerable
  • Ask help from your citizens as a government
  • Collaborate with independent urban experts, e.g. architects, placemakers,…

But maybe an even more important lesson: be aware of the paradox . In Amsterdam, when the city was in crisis, skilled youngsters and squatters boosted the city by filling empty places with crazy projects and a lot of energy and passion. This made Amsterdam attractive again and put it back on the map of capital and real estate developers. Location prizes rose and the temporary users got kicked out, not benefiting from the added value they created to the building and the wider neighborhood. Consequently, their activities move further away from the center – if they find any empty spaces at all. All the good thing from the past years are getting wiped out by this process.

TM Amersfoort 129

Not exclusively for white middle class

An interesting discussion arose on the topic of: who do we (want to) reach? Temporary use projects are sometimes blamed for being gathering places for white middle class families, while they often are situated in neglected areas with high poverty and migration background.

Again Jurgen came up with some Amsterdam-tested solutions:

  • Urban farming activities have a great potential to unite people from different backgrounds: people from migrant communities often come from more rural areas and therefore are skilled in growing their own vegetables
  • Work through key persons in these communities to engage them in your project.
  • Approach them not as ‘our Moroccan neighbors’ but because they are from the neighborhood and therefor valuable partners


Take a look at Jurgen’s presentation:


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