Jacques Brel sings about the Port of Amsterdam and indeed, Amsterdam has for a very long time been a port. But most people in Amsterdam today seem to have forgotten. Since the start of its existence my city was a port. It was her reason of being. When a ship comes in today and the sailors have been listening to Jacques Brel’s song by coincidence they must be awfully disappointed after their arrival. They will have to wait for a bus that never comes to bring them to some place where they can eat that fish that they were hoping for or meet that lady to dance with that they are longing for. The port and the city it seems today as if there is a wall between them.
And this is what many people would like. The city needs more houses, creativity needs more space, we even want to host the Olympics. And what’s the plan: use the harbour. During the last fifty years the harbour and everything that had to do with it has slowly been moving out. We still have a harbour. It’s somewhere between Amsterdam and the North Sea. It’s the fifth harbour of Europe. It’s enormous. Germany would no longer be able to produce cars if the harbour of Amsterdam didn’t exist. Seventy per cent of the chocolate in the world goes through the harbour of Amsterdam. But it’s fenced off, it’s dangerous, if you don’t have to be there you don’t go. Where we once had harbour, where we once had shipbuilding, we now have houses, services and creative industry. We displaced our roots to a place full of fences.
I think we should start to bring the harbour back to the city and the city back to the harbour. We should start to integrate the harbour into the city again. We should stop the idiocy of putting everything that seems dangerous or could produce noise or dust somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The harbour of Amsterdam is the soul of Amsterdam.
For the last five years I have been organising, together with some friends, a harbour safari. In summer we hire a boat, we sell eighty tickets for each trip and take these people on a three-hour trip into the harbour. And everybody always comes back exited. We didn’t know this existed they always say. It’s beautiful.
This is what I like to do at the start of a regeneration project. Bring people in, put the place on the map. If you don’t know it you can’t like it.
More information on the Harbour Safari