Streets, safety and spray paint

Streets, safety and spray paint

Linking Amsterdam Zuidoost’s tunnels via a safe street art route



As one enters Amsterdam Zuidoost via Gooiseweg, elevated roads and underpass converge at the point where Amsterdam, Diemen and Duivendrecht meet. This spot has been popular through the years for fishing and swimming and has always had  its charm with unfinished elements. However, now it’s hard to miss that you’re entering Zuidoost with the big bright street painting — Tropisch Vogelbos along the columns.

Like many of the peripheral neighbourhoods in the IMAGE consortium, Amsterdam Zuidoost is shaped in part by transport infrastructure. Through streets, rails, bridges, tunnels, bike lanes and pathways Amsterdam Zuidoost has been both connected and disconnected; infrastructure large and small enforcing barriers between functions and neighbourhoods. The neighbourhood, known as the Bijlmer, was physically shaped by mid-20th century modernist ideals. To the modernists of this time, the narrow winding streets and low rise of many European cities had grown stale. European cities had become crowded, dirty, noisy and unsafe. A new kind of city, a ‘city of the future,’ was needed.

Sigfried Nassuth and his colleagues in Amsterdam embarked on a mission to innovate at scale by developing a whole district of the future, planning in the 1960s a vision that would be completed in 1970: 31 nearly identical high-rise residential buildings laid out along a hexagonal grid in Amsterdam’s southeast. The perceived antidote to the crowded and dark city was to engineer vast open spaces for recreation unaffected by the noise and pollution of the street. The strategy was to elevate the roads, separating fast and slow moving traffic and freeing up space below for safe pedestrian travel and greenery.

The separated streets both kept pedestrians out of the way of cars and off the streets at all. As a result, instead of the utopia envisioned, the streets have become a complex and contested idea in the Bijlmer. To some, like Roy Ristie, founder of the Zuidoost parade, the streets are indeed the ‘media of Zuidoost’: the backdrop for public life, where many children grow up and the venue of important events like the parade. At the same time, it is impossible to discount the feeling of unsafety that has come from vast empty spaces and unmonitored tunnels, which has been reported by residents and visitors alike.


But these tunnels also provide an ideal canvas for an emerging international street art scene. Street art can be found all over Amsterdam, but Zuidoost especially is teeming with beautiful examples as the walls of colossal buildings, passages and residential complexes have been transformed. In recent years, the municipality, residents and artists have come together to brighten the tunnels with a variety of street artworks expressing colour, cheer, love, tolerance and nature.

We have learned from worldwide examples, for example the Bairro Padre Cruz in Lisbon and Comuna 13 in Medellin, that when street art is of high quality, communicates authentic stories from the neighbourhood and is made more visible, it can raise the pride of neighbourhoods, increase feelings of safety and even attract the interest of international visitors.

Recognizing this potential, Cities & Visitors is cooperating with Zuidoost City Council’s safety team among others to shape a cycle route connecting and making more visible the street art of the neighbourhood. In doing so we are mapping not only the existing, but also the potential, connecting the characteristic tunnels of the neighbourhood with stories and influences from around the world. It is our hope that in doing so, we might redefine the role these tunnels play and inspire new vision(s) for the neighbourhood.

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