Klarendal: from drugs to fashion?

Like many 19th century neighbourhoods, Klarendal has gone through major transitions. Originating as a typical working class area, it decayed into a no-go area infested by drugs and crime. Then, clever urban policy and gentrification brought about a rebirth, reshaping it as a fashionable place. Currently, Klarendal shows a lively social mix. Whether this will remain so, is one of the key questions.

Klarendal was built in the mid 19th century as a working class area, in response to a growing need for labour. At the time, Arnhem was expanding rapidly due to the growth of industry, railways and the construction of new residential areas for the upcoming class of merchants and administrators. Space for expansion was found North of the city centre. The first wave of construction consisted of cramped compounds of small houses, virtually slums. From the very start, the Arnhem council was confronted with the area’s poor social and hygienic conditions, marking it as a problem area. The area also became separated from the city by the construction, on an embankment, of the eastern railway, which for instance cut the area’s arterial street, Klarendalseweg, in two. Partly in response to this blight, various social housing complexes were established, initially by religious organisations, like the ‘Luthers Hofje’ at the Hommelseweg, and later the ‘Mussenwijk’ in the eastern part. These complexes are now protected monuments.

The 20th century started with major improvements. Slums were cleared. Better houses were built, and a luxury shopping gallery was created at the gateway to the Klarendalseweg (1926), adding to the role of the Klarendalseweg as the area’s main street. After the war, however, the area lost its attraction, the main street dwindled, and wealthier residents started to move out. In the 1960s, the council made plans to radically modernise the area, with the idea to replace the 19th century houses by high rise flats amidst green spaces. However, this met too much opposition to be accepted. In the decades to follow, business and housing stock continued to deteriorate, and Klarendal turned into a decaying area in an otherwise prospering city.

Urban renewal in the 1970s (source: http://www.historischklarendal.nl)
Urban renewal in the 1970s (source: http://www.historischklarendal.nl)

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed an influx of immigrants, seriously changing the area’s social mix. The original population moved out to the suburbs, to find better and bigger houses in greener settings. Klarendal became infested by problems of drugs, prostitution and crime. Social unrest grew, culminating in riots in 1989. Local ‘veterans’ combated the police whom they accused of doing too little against the junks. In response to that, the drugs and crime problems were contained, for instance by the establishment of a local police office and the reduction in the number of coffee shops. Not much change in the area’s social mix occurred however, and the number of shops continued to fall.

Then, rescue came from urban policymakers. From the 1970s onwards, Klarendal became a ‘neighbourhood improvement’ area, resulting in massive investment in housing replacement and renovation. Much of this was carried out by the local housing corporations. As a result, only 40% of pre-war housing is still standing. Investments were also made in retail space, such as the new shopping centre at Klarendal, which opened in 1990s. A dedicated commercial strategy emerged in the mid 2000s, with emphasis on pubs, restaurant and a particular focus on one sector, that of fashion. The latter was facilitated by providing affordable workshop and retail spaces notably along the Klarendalseweg. In doing so, vacant buildings were filled, and blighted spots made way for appealing public spaces. New buzz and activities appeared, including popular events such as Fashion Night held annually in June. Popular places emerged for eating and drinking attracting customers from ‘all of Arnhem and beyond’. In 2013, a new ‘multifunctional’ neighbourhood centre opened, containing a school, nursery, medical centre, meeting places and sports facilities. The area met with local and national media attention, was described as a ‘place to be’ and even turned into a showcase of ‘gentrification’.


A hodgepodge of proles, Turks and newbees

Klarendal has about 7.500 inhabitants of which nearly 25% is of immigrant descent (as compared to 18.2% in the entire City of Arnhem). This ethnic group mostly consists of a large Turkish community; there are hardly any other groups of immigrant descent such as Moroccans and Syrians, as opposed to more multicultural neighbourhoods such as Presikhaaf or Geitenkamp. In addition to the Turkish community, there are two other demographic groups in Klarendal: those living in the neighbourhood for decades, mostly of lower/working class (‘oud-Klarendallers’, literally ‘old-Klarendal people’) and newcomers. This last group is diverse: it consists of both singles and families, coming from both outside Arnhem and within. These three groups make Klarendal “really multiculti” and “very diverse” according to one of the interviewed residents.

Many of the Turkish families have lived in Klarendal for a long period of time, some since their arrival in the Netherlands in the 1970s and 1980s. Consequently, they really feel like true ‘Klarendallers’ and feel more connected to the ‘old’ (Dutch) Klarendallers than the new ‘gentrifiers’. An interviewed newcomer disagrees and sees the Turkish population as part of the ‘import’ since they behave similar to the gentrifiers: “they are very tidy. Very friendly and withdrawn: ideal Calvinist citizens you could say.

A community worker remarks that the Turkish population is not at all that different from the other citizens. Like other residents, the Turkish population also applaud changes in the neighbourhood, because Klarendal has become safer and their houses have been improved. However, like many ‘oud-Klarendallers’ they also feel that some of the changes are “not for them”. With small budgets, none of the Turkish women can afford to buy designer bags sold in the Modekwartier. However, some of the newcomers express the same concern: “I like them [the fashion shops], but I would not enter them, no. I like to window-shop, to get nice ideas (…) but those are not shops I would like to get in, that is not my thing (…) mostly because of the prices.” Another male newcomer states: “That entire Fashion Quarter, yes, I like it, but it is for a very limited target group.

There thus seems to be a mismatch between the new commerce in Klarendal and its residents, regardless whether they are ‘oud-Klarendallers’, Turks, or newcomers. Most of the interviewed residents express a feeling of pride regarding their neighbourhood and feel obliged to ‘defend’ Klarendal’s image. Interestingly, while insiders and visitors from outside Arnhem value Klarendal’s redevelopment, residents of other parts of Arnhem are apparently unaware of the changes and still regard it as a problem neighbourhood.

At first sight, there are no real struggles between different population groups, yet regular daily interaction is limited. While the old-Klarendallers have clear locations to meet (tobacco store Simone, cafe The Sailor, or on the sidewalk of Kapelstreet), the Turks congregate at the mosque, at home or in separate community groups. The newcomers often work outside the neighbourhood or even outside the city, spending less time in the neighbourhood with other residents. However, when looking more carefully and in-depth into a local initiative called the Ballroom Theater, the situation becomes more complex.

The Theatre of Social Mix

Policy-makers want people of different social backgrounds to mix and integrate. Critics say it's an impossible and even undesirable goal. But what do we see happening in practice?

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Business in Klarendal: the return of the hats

80 years ago, people flocked to Klarendal to buy hats. 50 years later, to buy drugs. Now, the hats are for sale again. A moving story about the ups and downs of a neighbourhood's economy.

From the onset, Klarendal was built as a commuting area. The local economy originated from local demand for food and other daily consumption and services. Typically for a working class area, many little shops and other venues (workshops, pubs, etc) appeared. When the area was upgraded in the early 20th century, its economy also grew on the basis of city-wide demand. A distinguished shopping gallery emerged at the Klarendalseweg, where, unique for its time, the Arnhem population was exposed to modern shop windows. On display were fancy lighting equipment, stylish men’s hats, new tools and gadgets and luxury comestibles, such as poultry and quality vegetables, Until the 1950s, Klarendal teemed with economic activity.

Greengrocer's shop in 1937 (source: http://www.historischklarendal.nl)
Greengrocer’s shop in 1937 (source: http://www.historischklarendal.nl)

Then, after the Second World War, decline set in. Changes in consumption patterns and the moving out of the original population caused a gradual decline in shops and other business activities. The luxury shops were the first to close. Venues catering for local consumption survived longer. In the 1960s , there were still 32 bakeries, 25 pubs and 16 other shops. Only a few of those remained 30 year later. Some new businesses were established by the immigrant population, but numbers remained low. From the 1970s till the 1990s, the area witnessed a strong growth of illegal economic activities, notably in the form of drugs and prostitution.

Fashion shops at the  main street, the ‘Klarendalseweg’ (source: own picture)
Fashion shops at the main street, the ‘Klarendalseweg’ (source: own picture)

From the 1990s onwards, while illegal activities were successfully combated after the riots, business activities for both local and external consumption started to grow again. A new shopping centre emerged at the Klarendalseweg, hosting a supermarket, stores for cheap clothing, convenience and household goods, laundry, etc. Elsewhere, new shops opened, such as an organic bakery and butcher. Additionally, business activities appeared reaching beyond local demand. First, pubs and restaurants, such as Grand Cafe ‘Goed Proeven’, hipster bar ‘Casper’ and restaurant ‘Sugar Hill’. Second, a cluster of fashion workshops and outlets emerged notably around the beginning of the Klarendalseweg. About 50 business were established, selling for instance very fancy bags, dresses and, once more, hats. The development of this ‘Fashion Quarter’ was enabled by subsidised rents and other support measures. At the moment, most businesses only consist of one-person, part-time activity. Whether the ‘Fashion Quarter’ will be able to grow and prosper, remains to be seen. The ‘hat shop’ that started at the Klarendalseweg in 2010 moved to the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam. So where to a buy a hat in Klarendal now?

A brand new day for Klarendal

This is a guest story by Berry Kessels

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From government-driven demolition to ‘sweat equity’ renovation

Monumental buildings, courtyards, and high-rise flats, they can all be found in Klarendal. Despite widespread demolition that occurred under a variety of urban renewal schemes, the neighbourhood contains housing in most of the architectural styles of the past hundred years. Since 2000 investments have been aimed at improving, rather than demolishing existing dwellings. Volkshuisvesting, a social housing corporation owning most of the houses, has undertaken much of the investment over the years, partly because other market actors were not interested in investing in the neighbourhood. However, Klarendal is becoming increasingly attractive to private investors and developers.

The first urban developments in Klarendal consisted of small single room dwellings, built between 1830 and 1888. These dwellings were of substandard condition and the area developed a (national) reputation as a slum. This spawned the first wave of demolition and renewal, which occurred between 1890 and the Second World War. Slums were cleared to make way for cheap working-class row houses. It was during this period that the first social housing estates were built: ‘Kapelwijk’ in the central part and ‘Onder de Linden’ and ‘Mussenberg’ in the eastern parts of Klarendal. Motivated by concerns over the decline of the area, a second round of urban renewal commenced in 1972, which lasted until the end of the 1980s. Especially the southern parts of Klarendal were targeted for urban renewal clearance and new housing construction. As a result, more than 40% of the total housing stock now dates back to the past decades. Renewal occurred under the heading of ‘Building for the Neighbourhood’, which meant that new dwellings had to be built for the original inhabitants of the neighbourhood. Enhancing the social diversity of the neighbourhood was not an explicit policy concern. Not yet…

This changed in the nineties, when housing policy makers at national level began to emphasise the benefits of enhancing the social diversity of residential environments. This was to be achieved through redeveloping homogeneous neighbourhoods so that they would contain a greater variety of houses by price range and tenure. Renewal activities in Klarendal were also influenced by this emerging consensus. In 2000, 83 per cent of the housing stock was rental, of which Volkshuisvesting owned the bulk – 2200 dwellings. Because the second wave of renewal mobilized strong resistance by residents, Volkshuivesting opted for tenure conversion, rather than selective demolition and new construction, by selling parts of the social housing stock. The proportion of owner-occupied housing rose from 17 per cent in 2000 to 30 per cent in 2015. In turn, the social rental stock was reduced to 57 per cent and private rental increased to 13 per cent. Volkshuisvesting now owns 1750 of the total of almost 4000 dwellings in Klarendal.

Average growth rates on assessed values of residential property in Klarendal from 1999 to 2013 stood at 68 per cent, considerably higher than the rate for the city of Arnhem as a whole (58 per cent). In contrast, real estate agents have not observed similar increases in purchase prices, even though they recognize that the neighbourhood offers a potentially ‘good investment’ for home owners. Indeed, this potential is increasingly recognized. Recently, several properties have been renovated by their prospective owners under a “sweat equity” programme aimed at rehabilitating the dilapidated housing stock. Professional investors and developers have also lately discovered Klarendal. One developer is constructing twenty modern family homes on a vacant block, two other investors are renovating existing dwellings.


Klarendal’s politics: protest, riots, deliberation

The neighbourhood always had and still has a vibrant political life, from catholic labour organizations before the Second World War to the popular leftist politics of the seventies and the recent turn toward demand-driven, communicative policy-making. Klarendallers will always have their voices heard and deeds felt by the powers that be, whether through talking, protest or, when necessary, rioting.

While the recent arrival of the Fashion Quarter (Modekwartier) might suggest otherwise, gentrification is not entirely new to Klarendal. Already at the end of the nineteen sixties plans were conceived to demolish most of the area and replace the old with new luxury housing. Back then community leader Tempo van Vlaanderen (nicknamed after the brand of his delivery wagon) and with him many others sprung into action and effectively stopped those initial plans of ‘urban renewal’. In ‘72 this also led to the establishment of Committee Klarendal (Werkgroep Klarendal) which was quite successful in securing the construction of cheap and good housing for its working class residents. It was wholly in accordance with the political spirit of the times, with protest and polarization.

On a national level these antagonistic politics again gave way to the typically Dutch ‘poldering’ in the nineties, focusing more on consensus. Also in Arnhem, where for a long time the Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid) was in control, the electoral landscape was fragmented, urging much more consensual politics. White papers attest to this: with everybody having their say they become a jumble of promissory bureaucratic lingo. However, in the same period, Klarendal also developed from a politics of struggle to deliberation, in which the residents’ association was entirely incorporated as a neighbourhood council (bewonersoverleg).

The most recent changes in the neighbourhood, from the 2001 ‘Klarendal Come On!’ initiative onwards, have been the product of the coming together, in the neighbourhood council, of active residents, social workers and representatives of the housing association and municipal government. With the riots as a historic low point of public trust still in the back of people’s minds this is considered a proud achievement. Crucial has also been the timely financial boost from the national ‘empowered neighbourhoods’ program (krachtwijkenbeleid) by minister of state Ella Vogelaar (2007-2009). However, these funds have long dried up in the meantime, and with recent national austerity and decentralization measures setting in, the big political challenge is to keep talks going among neighbourhood stakeholders to soften and direct the blows.

Attractive as it might be, we should be aware that the renewed emphasis on cooperation and deliberative consensus (‘overleg’) carries its risks as well. Democracy can be practiced in many ways and any one way is not necessarily wholly better than any other. Every form has its pros and cons, and people will not be better served by one or the other. In the old political style differences were magnified and actively shaped: workers against owners, ‘us against them’. In the new way of running politics there is a risk of differences not being properly addressed. A bureaucratic atmosphere emerges in which deviant opinions are dismissed as ‘irrational’ or just ‘shouting’. An atmosphere also, in which new, middle-class residents often thrive better, leading to a situation in which differences that are definitely there can only be expressed through undesirable channels and places. Klarendal’s history teaches us that many styles of practising and discussing politics are possible. It proves important that, when organizing a neighbourhood platform (‘wijkgesprek’), one has to keep in mind and make room for those different styles.