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Special excursion through Amsterdam Noord

During a recent trip to Holland to visit family and friends, my cousin organised a guided tour of Amsterdam Noord. ‘Noord’ – or north – used to be a notoriously rundown part of the city, following the gradual closure of the once-dominant shipyards and petrochemical industry in the 1970s and 80s.

It was an area associated with old disused industrial structures, rundown buildings and social depravation, a relatively rare state of affairs in the organised, prosperous Netherlands. Slowly but surely, however, the area began to turn a page in the 1990s, and by now a dynamic transformation is visible as the last old industrial eyesores and chemical installations are being removed and modern apartment blocks are being erected overlooking Het IJ, the large body of water that separates Noord from the main part of Amsterdam.

The shortest, most atmospheric route from the city centre to Noord is still by ferry, but it is no longer isolated and alienated. Noord is undergoing a renaissance; becoming a trendy young place to live, with sleek modern apartments, serviced accommodation for students and young professionals alike, modern offices and creativity centres, and a bohemian waterside scene. With views across the water to the iconic city centre, the cafés, restaurants, boat bars and former river cruiser now serving as a hotel, all offer something a little different—and it’s catching on!

Urban renewal
My cousin knows all about this, as she works for the Amsterdam town council in the ‘Ruimtelijke Ordening’ or urban planning department. The Dutch are particularly good at creating organised yet highly liveable urban spaces, but Amsterdam Noord was long a challenging area. Now it has really taken off, and my cousin is proud of being part of the process, as is her former colleague, Adri Doorneveld, who uses his intimate knowledge of this part of Amsterdam to show groups of visitors around. Those who love architecture, art and bohemian ambiences will love it, for this is urban revival taking place before your eyes.

Some of the original shipyard buildings have not been demolished as they represent an architectural, industrial and social heritage that needs to be maintained and cherished. Far from beautifying and converting them into serene museums, however, the bohemian appeal of this area has inspired planners to create an interactive modern cultural space in which artists can work and express their creativity without limits. The resulting mix of urban artist and techie types working against an industrial background has a somewhat Mad Max feel about it – and it fits right in with the rapidly evolving social-cultural scene of what is a very different, very organic form of urban renewal.

If you’re ever in Amsterdam, leave the canals for a morning or afternoon and cross the water to the city’s trendy new hub.