The Decline of the Red Light District
As a tour guide in Amsterdam tourists ask me this very often. The plans to ‘close down’ the Red Light District have reached even the remotest of regions and everyone asks me to explain this peculiar plan. I can tell you this, no, this area is not going to be closed down completely. But the Red Light District as we all know it and love it might very well be coming to an end. Please allow me to explain.
The Red Light District is smack-dab in the middle of the historical city centre of Amsterdam. Whereas this area used to be inhibited by the sleaziest of sleazes, junkies, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes, this area is now attracting the more affluent young urban professionals. And this change in demographic is also slowly changing the general attitude towards prostitution. More and more educated individuals are expressing their concern for the well-being of the prostitutes behind the windows. These young urban professionals also vote in city elections and the up make of the city council is changing accordingly.
This change became clear for the first time in 2006. The city council expressed the ambition to reduce the number of windows behind which women can work as a prostitute from 477 to 240. They want to concentrate the District into a smaller area, namely, one street, De Oudezijds Achterburgwal, and a couple of side streets. In doing so, they will be cutting down on all the charm of the Red Light District.
The best areas of the Red Light District will be closed down, according to the plans of the municipality. The Oudekerksplein, the square around the oldest church of Amsterdam is now inhibited by the big black and beautiful prostitutes. Some like to call this area the big momma ally. In the middle of this area is the Prostitution Information Centre and a child daycare centre, right next to the windows of the prostitutes. This might seem hard to believe, but you just have to see it. Another area that will be closed down is the ‘Saint Anne’s Quarter’. Ironically, this former convent is now the most concentrated area of prostitutes of Amsterdam. This area includes the narrowest street of Amsterdam. This narrowest street should only allow one-way traffic, but doesn’t, leading to traffic jams of people wanting to walk by. I don’t blame them, because this street is known for having the most beautiful prostitutes of the entire Red Light District. What does the municipality want to do with this area? That’s right, change it to a shopping mall.
In 2007 the city paid 25 million euros to a former pimp to buy his historical buildings that used to all be used as the working place for prostitutes. In the years 2007 and 2008 they closed 90 windows and started renting these out for a reduced price to beginning artists and designers. This way the municipality wants to develop the Red Light District into a more high-standing artistic district. The fashion label Red Light Fashion and the radio station Red Light Radio are replacing the prostitutes.
Yet, the objective of reducing the number of windows to 240 has still not been met. After the city council had bought 90 windows something happened that nobody had expected to play a role in this storyline: the worldwide economic crisis hit. For that reason, the city council has found less former pimps willing to sell their historical buildings and the municipality has had to face a number of budget cuts, thus postponing the ‘closing down’ of the Red Light District.
For once, the economic crisis is turning out to be a good thing. The ambiance in the Red Light District will stay preserved a little bit longer as the former plans are being postponed. In that way, the Red Light District will keep its distinguishing characteristics for a little bit longer. What I love about the Red Light District is the mix of different activities that take place in the midst of prostitution. You can find the oldest church of the city, a child daycare centre, many charitable and religious organizations, the prostitution information centre, the company that rents the rooms to prostitutes, china town, and not to forget, the best restaurants and high fashion. Taken together this mix makes the Amsterdam Red Light district a fascinating place to visit.
Erik Meijer is a tour guide for GetEvents. Would you like to explore the area on one of her tours? Go to amsterdamtour.co.uk