Resident mix good for neighbourhoods

The majority of the residents in Rotterdam’s Zuidwijk district value the changes that the restructuring of recent years has achieved. Newcomers to the neighbourhood are positive about their move to Zuidwijk. However, all residents are critical about the large influx of residents with a migration background to rented social housing, concludes André Ouwehand in his dissertation.

The social mixing of neighbourhoods, the principle that people from different backgrounds and origins should live together in the same district rather than in their separate areas, is an important ideal in urban development and public housing. This principle was the cornerstone of community renewal in recent decades. However, it has also been the subject of serious criticism in the debate in academia and wider society: the assumed positive impact of mixing is said by some to be limited or not to be positive at all, but rather to be bad for social cohesion and opportunities for social advancement. 

In his dissertation, André Ouwehand (OTB) provides an insight into how residents, – old and new, indigenous Dutch and ethnic minority – experience and value the changes in their neighbourhood. His research in the early post-war district of Zuidwijk in Rotterdam focuses both on the changes to social housing stocks caused by the normal relocation process and on the consequences of the process of demolition and new construction.

Mixed neighbourhood better for immigration

The vast majority of Zuidwijk residents are positive about their housing. Almost all saw the move to this district as progress. Everyone is positive about the green and generally quiet neighbourhood, but critical about the shootings and other incidents that took place in the past. Ouwehand: “All residents, whatever their ethnic background, have the impression that if existing social housing is vacated, it is only residents with a migration background, often with a low income, who move in. The indigenous Dutch residents are critical about this because of the loss of respectability caused by neglected gardens, sheets and newspapers over the windows of some homes and danger of nuisance or disturbance. Ethnic minority residents also share this opinion. They wish to live in a mixed neighbourhood with people of Dutch origin because they feel this is better for their own integration and that of their children.”

Demolition and new construction appreciated

Many residents in this district consider the urban renewal achieved by demolishing old rented housing and building new owner-occupied homes as a positive move. However, ethnic minority elderly residents and ethnic minority single parents are an exception to this: the new houses are too expensive for them. Many middle-class ethnic minority families have also moved into the new owner-occupied homes, but residents do not object to this. They see them as residents who work, therefore leading regular lives and not causing nuisance. Ouwehand: “In summary, it’s important that those who move into existing social housing are not only residents with a migration background and a low income. Mixing communities does make a substantial difference.”

Increasing efforts to improve quality of life

The frequently-heard accusation from indigenous Dutch residents that ‘newcomers’, by which they mean ethnic minority residents, have no connection to the neighbourhood is untenable. Some of these ‘newcomers’ have lived in the neighbourhood since childhood, grew up there or in some cases returned to the neighbourhood because of their connection to it. Ethnic diversity in the district is becoming normalised as a result of the increasing time that ethnic minority residents have lived there and the influx of middle-class ethnic minority residents.

However, the ongoing debate in society about identity and integration is causing increasing division. The municipality and housing association have an important role to play in managing the district and promoting contact between residents, but appear to have been cutting back heavily in that area over the last decade. Their efforts to improve quality of life in the neighbourhood have diminished significantly in recent years. Ouwehand: “They would be well advised to modify this strategy and increase their focus on quality-of-life issues.”