Why is the government counting the number of «new townspeople»
The research bureau of the Amsterdam government recently released a dataset about Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods, which contains over 20 variables that in some way deal with the ethnicity of local residents. The Netherlands has always had a somewhat dubious obsession with categorising people by ethnic background (not just on the basis of where they were born, but where their parents were born). Even so, I was a bit surprised by the category new townspeople (nieuwe stedelingen). People are considered new townspeople if they meet the following criteria:
- Between 18 and 55 years old; and
- Registered as a resident of Amsterdam after their 18th birthday; and
- Either both parents were born in the Netherlands, or the person him- or herself or at least one of the parents was born in a Western country.
So who would invent such a weird category? A bit of googling reveals that the term new townspeople is associated with students and knowledge workers (but apparently not from India or Turkey) and that it’s used in combination with terms such as post-industrial economy, creative industry, Richard Florida, Bagels & Beans and pine nut sandwiches. In other words, new townspeople are associated with gentrification. In policy documents, a high share of new townspeople is seen as a positive sign for a neighbourhood.
Sociologist Jan Rath recently criticized the gentrification thing:
It’s become a controversial term, but administrators really do pursue a population policy in the city. Officially it’s a search for the right social mix in a neighbourhood, but in reality it really boils down to reducing the number of houses for the people with the lowest incomes.
In addition to that, local administrators apparently don’t think it’s awkward to measure the success of their policies by counting the number of new townspeople, a bureaucratic term for new residents who are not ethnic minorities.