Free Space Now

Written by Melanie Schlemmer

Free Spaces are a distinctive element of Amsterdam’s character, but the demand for new living space in the city is high. Bajesdorp is one of the last Free Spaces in Amsterdam and the community fights for their right to exist.

The wind carries soft reggae tunes through the construction site of the future ‘Bajeskwartier’. A green piece of land cuts through the concrete desert. The squatters of the guardian houses of the former prison ‘Bijlmerbajes’ organized another party in their community building. Over the years so-called Bajesdorp evolved into a blooming, self-organised space with a community kitchen and garden. With the smell of vegan barbecue in the air and surrounded by a cheerful crowd of around forty people, one could easily forget about the growing threat of eviction that Bajesdorp faces. For three years, Bajesdorp has been negotiating with the city of Amsterdam and the investors of ‘Bajeskwartier’ to buy a piece of land to build Bajesdorp 2.0. and protect one of Amsterdam’s last Free Spaces.

Fred Kolmar (36) visits Bajesdorp frequently. He is tapping his foot rhythmically to the music while looking at the community building ‘De Muijterij’. The beer Fred is holding in his hand costs him 1,50€ and the expenses for the food are covered on the basis of donations: “I like the anti-commercial character of this place. Everyone is welcomed here. It’s sad that more and more of these places disappear.” As a consequence, the people of Bajesdorp decided to take greater steps to protect their home. Together with other Free Spaces like “De Ruimte” the core community of Bajesddorp started a “Free Place Agreement” to make sure the politicians of Amsterdam finally take action in favour of Amsterdam’s last Free Spaces. This would mean helping to protect marginalised communities consisting of all sorts of people searching for a place for expression in the urbanized jungle.

Jessica Ritsema (27) is carrying empty bottles behind the bar of the community centre. The young woman with a charming smile tells that she finally found a home in Bajesdorp after moving twelve times in the last eight years. Jessica explains why squatted places are for some the only option to live in affordable conditions: “The housing market is crazy here. I applied for social housing seven years ago, but the waiting time is around fourteen years,” Jessica says while gazing into the distance. “This is my home. If we can’t stay, I don’t know where to go.”

Bajesdorps’ future stays unclear for the moment, but the people around Bajesdorp continue to organise weekly events like an open community kitchen or parties like the one on this beautiful day in April. While the sun is slowly beginning to hide behind the trees next to the garden and the music starts to fade, the people of Bajesdorp hold onto their dream of a community based, anticapitalist space for everyone. A Free Space where Amsterdam’s manifold society can continue to exist and bloom.