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Elms threaten 2 million euro subsidy

11 January 2008 - Alderwoman Fatima Elatik had taken the unusual step to personally attend today’s court session. If the judge rules against cutting the Javastraat elms, the Zeeburg District may lose out on 2 million euro in urban renewal subsidies from the EU and the municipality.

Two tiny trees - perhaps one should call them shrubs - were standing in the back of the court room, as if to mock the efforts that were being made to save the venerable elms lining the Javastraat. Activists have asked the court to overturn or at least suspend the permit to cut the trees.

Zeeburg is trying to turn the Indische buurt, long one of Amsterdam’s poorest neighbourhoods, into an economically vital neighbourhood. The Javastraat is to become a stylish avenue, with wide sidewalks and plenty parking spaces in order to attract shoppers. The current elms, of varying heights and species, make a ‘messy’ impression that is at odds with the desired ‘uniform green image’, according to the district.

Activists of the local Green and Blue Association say that the trees have intrinsic value and that the district has not made serious efforts to save them. Prior to the court session, spokesperson Kiek Jansen said that surveys and discussions with neighbourhood residents have revealed that most of them like the elms and do not want rid of them.

However, many would also have indicated that they have little faith that the trees will actually be saved. According to Jansen, this adds additional significance to today’s court session: if the court rules in favour of the trees, residents will learn that citizen participation can actually make a difference.

Elatik said that the district developed plans to turn the Indische buurt into a ‘wereldwijk’ (world neighbourhood or great neighbourhood) years ago, long before minister Ella Vogelaar of Urban Renewal labelled the neighbourhood a ‘krachtwijk’ (power neighbourhood).

Since Zeeburg is not one of the richest districts, it would depend on subsidies to realise its gentrification plans. If the European subsidy is not spent this year, it will be withdrawn. “If we can’t start next week, all will be lost”, Elatik said after today’s court session.

At the last minute, the Javastraat shopkeepers’ association has sent a fax to indicate that they do not oppose cutting the elms. However, the judge stated that the fax is irrelevant, since he is to make a decision on legal rather than democratic grounds.

The court’s decision is expected next Monday in the afternoon. Image: Javastraat last autumn (photo: Green and Blue)

UPDATE 15 January - Zeeburg has announced that the court has ruled that the trees may be cut.


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