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Amsterdam's Red Light District

Amsterdam’s Red Light District

(Last updated on the 29th of August, 2017)

The Things You Didn’t Know About Amsterdam’s Red Light District

The Red Light District is the oldest area in Amsterdam and is seen by most as the entrance to Amsterdam. The area is known for its sex shops, coffeeshops and seed shops. What many visitors don’t know is that regular people also live in the Red Light District. 4.290 people to be exactly. The district has a unique mix of residential homes, shops and tourist features. It’s also the oldest part of Amsterdam with many historic buildings. All in all an attractive part of town for residents and visitors alike.

The Red Light District in Amsterdam during daytime

Red Light District Statistics

Of the 4.290 inhabitants of Amsterdam’s Red Light District (Burgwallen-Oude Zijde, zip code 1012) the majority of people (65,5%) live alone. 4% live in a single parent household and 5% in a two parent household. In total the The Red Light District has 2.802 households with a total of 2.839 houses available to live in. The percentage of private rental housing is high compared to other parts of Amsterdam. Only 10% is designated for social housing. there are 22 student houses and just 9 registered houseboats. The surface areas of most apartments in Amsterdam’s Red Light District aren’t registered (31%). Consequently, it isn’t possible to compare data with the rest of the city. 35% of the houses that are registered have a surface that is less than 60 square meters. Research published in 2016 shows that the Red Light District has the most street space for pedestrians out of all the areas of major cities in Holland.

The medium disposable household income is below average due to the high number of single-person households, there are few low-income earners in this area. The unemployment in the Red Light District has decreased in recent years. The youth population of Amsterdam’s Red Light District is relatively small compared to other parts of Amsterdam. Only 6,7% of the population are between the age of 0 and 17. Those aged 65 and above only take up 8,2 % of the total number of people.

A white swan in Amsterdam's Red Light District

The Red Light District currently offers 9.255 jobs. The Red Light District, locally known as De Wallen, combined with the Burgwallen Nieuwe Zijde is part of the city centre of Amsterdam. This part of Holland’s capital gets a lot of visitors, because it is a unique area that most people want to see. Almost 20% of the businesses in this area are in the hospitality industry. 15% of all hotel rooms, 30% of cafes and 15% of the non-food shops are located here. Since 2010 a lot of large scale luxury hotels have been added, like the Hotel Room Mate Aitana, Andaz, W hotel and Art l’otel. the total room capacity has increased by 27%  (900 rooms) between 2010 and 2015, mostly in the 4 star segment. And that excludes Airbnb.

In 2011 there were 652 catering and hotel establishments in the Red Light District alone. This is 36% of the whole catering industry in Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s Red Light District has 112 hotels, 225 bars, 304 restaurants, 76 coffeeshops and 11 other catering services.

Oudebrugsteeg and the Warmoesstraat in Amsterdam's Red Light District, a.k.a. "De Wallen".

Amsterdam’s Red Light District contains around 250 cultural facilities, which employ 900 people. Cultural facilities include public cultural institutions, foundations and for the largest share self-employed cultural practitioners. Cultural attraction include things such as The Old Church, the Hash Marihuana Hemp Museum, a hidden church, the Sex Museum, the New Church, the Beurs van Berlage, etc. The Sex Museum is by far the most popular attraction in this district. It attracts 537.000 visitors per year.

The Red Light District’s Economic Role In Amsterdam

The Red Light District is – together with the Rijks- and Van Gogh Museum – one of the most important tourist attractions of the city. This makes the area a significant economic factor. Still, the local government would like to see a Red Light District with a more international city like grandeur. At this time the sex industry and fast food diners dominate the Red Light District. To tune this lopsided and “uncultured” image, the government decided to drastically reduce the number of window brothels. The newly made available spaces would lend themselves for restaurants, fashion stores and nice shops. These changes would in turn revamp the entire district and all of its members to higher level, even chic. The given name for this ambitious initiative was “project 1012”. But the dreamed of new economic order in the Red Light District ran into a though reality.

Failed Project 1012

Lodewijk Asscher, currently deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, used to be an eager alderman in Amsterdam. He declared that: “beneath every stone that you lift in the Red Light District you’ll find vermin”. According to him the sex industry in Amsterdam parasitised off of ruthless human trafficking. He announced an offensive against the sector. Whoever was caught in illegal, misogynistic activities, would lose his or her brothel license, after which the government would turn off the red lights behind the windows and would take over the real-estate for pennies on the dollar and make something nice out of it. 10 years later only one conclusion can be drawn. The Asscher-plan has turned out to be an unsatisfactory – and costly – failure. The government hasn’t been able to close down a single window brothel based on human trafficking. The reduction in the number of window brothels has only been achieved by buying out sex-entrepreneurs who received the mother lode for their real estate. It cost the city of Amsterdam 10’s on millions of euros.

The Red Light District Hasn’t Been Revamped

The high priced bought up window brothel real estate didn’t turn into high-end restaurants, fashion stores or shops that would revamp the entire neighbourhood. To somewhat limit the financial losses Amsterdam decided to rent out the dismantled brothels to a smart entrepreneur who built the aforementioned prostitution museum in it, complete with red window lights. Earlier this year Amsterdam sold four former window brothel buildings to My Red Light, an independent collective of self-employed sex workers who now exploit 14 window brothels. In short: business as usual. The sex worker project is partly financed by the Rabobank, the same Rabobank that cut off all financial connections for Red Light District entrepreneurs because they were operating in the “immoral” sex industry.

Good Intentions, Bad Results

Amsterdam is justifiably worried about human trafficking and forced prostitution. However, those practices appear to not be happening inside the Red Light District but outside of it, in illegal sex clubs, escort services and private houses, where there isn’t any form of regulated oversight. Luckily, the government failed in closing down the one area where there is oversight.

If you liked this article, then you’ll most definitely like the next post about the history of the Red Light District. CLICK HERE to read it.