Amsterdam’s plan to ‘save’ prostitutes is a billion euro gentrification project

Sep 25, 2015
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Gentrification in Amsterdam

The city’s politicians have undertaken a massive gentrification project under the guise of ‘rescuing’ women from the sex trade.

Gentrification in Amsterdam

One of Amsterdam’s most iconic landmarks is being torn down. The lights have been switched off in the famous Red Light District. Millions of public funds have vanished into the pockets of brothel keepers, while the prostitutes have been left empty-handed. The culprit isn’t the mafia or some other illegal organization. It’s the city’s politicians. They have undertaken a massive gentrification project under the guise of rescuing women from the sex trade.


Project 1012 is a policy plan aimed to fundamentally change the Red Light District (located in postcode region 1012). Its goal is to decrease the number of windows. In order to do so, the municipality has been buying up brothels with public funds, re-selling the realty to ‘high-grade’ enterprises: dining, design and fashion.

The project, started in 2007, oddly goes against national intentions to regulate sex work as a normal job. Seven years earlier, Dutch parliament decreed to lift the ban on brothels. Prostitution was to be legalized by letting sex workers formally register at the Chamber of Commerce and by having them file their taxes. The amendment was meant to protect the position of sex workers as a vulnerable group, to fight involuntariness and to further regulate business operations.

Selling the project

Why would Amsterdam, a city universally associated with sexual tolerance, implement such an adversative policy? The answer lies with the frame used to legitimatize the transformation. It was then Alderman Lodewijk Asscher of the left-leaning Social Democrats who managed to ‘sell’ the project. He insisted that sex work is inextricably bound up with exploitation, oppression and human trafficking.

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