MSc Thesis UvA - Belonging to Slotermeer: Comparing the general expansion plan with the experience of residents

By Sam Vos

During Amsterdam's urbanization period in the mid-20th century, Slotermeer was built in 1952 as part of the General Expansion Plan (AUP), a plan for the city expansion west of Amsterdam. Slotermeer was built in line with the concept "air, light and space" and it was supposed to become a garden city. A concern of planning entire neighborhoods from scratch is that social functions and processes should be accounted for in the planning. Slotermeer provides a case study to investigate how planned space serves social functions and how the realized planned space is experienced by its residents. Lefebvre's triad of space (1974) is an important basis of this thesis: the relation between planned space, experienced space and spatial practice in Slotermeer has been discovered.

A number of urban sociological studies have investigated how social change in the neighborhood has influenced residents’ experience of belonging. New neighbors are accompanied by social changes (Madden, 2014). The arrival of new residents is related to boundary drawing based on perceived differences between residents in norms, values, behavior and lifestyle (Elias & Scotson, 1965; Suttles, 1972, cited in Pinkster, 2016; Duyvendak, 2011; Pinkster, 2014; 2016). The historical background of Slotermeer, including the demographic diversification in the 1970's and the current neighborhood renewal plans of the government (Blauw, 2005; Gemeente Amsterdam, 2016; Heijdra, 2010), makes Slotermeer a place where feeling of belonging is a present concern. Hence, feeling of belonging has also been investigated in this thesis.

For this thesis, 19 residents of Slotermeer have been interviewed. To take the population changes and its related social changes over time into account, I have interviewed three categories of residents: first residents (people who moved to Slotermeer between 1952-1970), middle residents (people who moved to Slotermeer between 1970-2000) and recent residents (people who moved to Slotermeer after 2000). One of the main findings is that realized planned space and experienced space in Slotermeer relate well to each other. Residents value the AUP and the “air, light and space”. Especially the first and middle residents don’t want to live anywhere else than in Slotermeer. However, they see a decline of green and space in the neighborhood because of the verdichtingsbouw, which the residents regret.

Although the planned space is valued, its social functions are considered as less ideal. There are social boundaries in the neighborhood. This has always been the case in Slotermeer, Slotermeer was even planned to separate between different pillars of the compartmentalization. The existence of social boundaries between different groups is in resemblance with Pinkster (2016). Recent residents call Slotermeer "monocultural: there are only Muslims". Interestingly, some Moroccan residents also miss the presence of the Dutch culture in the neighborhood. More interestingly, part of the recent residents, who are migrants themselves, felt displaced by Muslim migrants. One explanation for this perception is the cosmopolitan life style of these migrants. It may be a struggle between cosmopolitan and more conservative cultures. This explanation is in line with Duyvendak (2011).

Regardless this change in population and culture over time, all first and middle residents feel like they belong to Slotermeer in a sense of place attachment. Residents are familiar with the neighborhood and this is their main reason to stay. Meanwhile, half of the recent residents doesn't feel attached. Duyvendak (2011) related a decrease of attachment to increased mobility. Furthermore, recent residents have had less time to get attached to the neighborhood. This explanation is in line with Pinkster (2016). In the sense of group membership, not all residents feel at home. The first residents still feel at home, they always have. However, half of the middle and recent residents doesn't feel at home in Slotermeer. Although not all residents feel part of the entire community, they do feel like they belong to certain community centers, groups and shops. In addition to Antonsich (2010) and Pinkster (2016), this thesis gives the impression that residents experience the neighborhood as divided in small territories and feel at home in their "own territory".

Overall, there seem to be conflicts between the plans of the government and the experience of the residents, resulting in new social structures and concerns, as Lefebvre's triad (1974) represents. The suburbanization policy of Amsterdam in the 1970s leaded to a significant demographic diversification in Slotermeer. The daily life changed. Not all residents are pleased about this change. Now, with the neighborhood renewal, residents told me they don't know their neighbors anymore. They have less contact with their neighbors. Social life reacts to political forces, in congruence with Lefebvre (1974).

Name student: Sam Vos

Programme: Sociology: Urban Sociology

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Image credits

Icon image: Gemeente Amsterdam - Slotermeer