How Children Demanding Play Streets Changed Amsterdam

The above video, excerpted from a Dutch television documentary series, shows how children helped catalyze the fight for safe streets in Amsterdam more than a generation ago.

The documentary examines the conditions in a dense urban neighborhood called De Pijp, from the perspective of local children. In the film, neighborhood kids energetically advocate for a play street, free of cars.

Bicycle Dutch recently shortened the episode and added English subtitles. The documentary originally aired in 1972. That very same year, several play streets were installed in the city. In the 1970s, traffic fatality rates in the Netherlands were 20 percent higher than in the United States, but thanks to grassroots efforts like the play street campaign in De Pijp and the “Stop de Kindermoord” movement (“Kindermoord” translates to “child murder”), the Dutch changed their approach to street design. Today the traffic fatality rate in the Netherlands is 60 percent lower than in the U.S. — 22,000 fewer Americans would die each year if we had kept pace with the Dutch.

Here’s a look at one of those play streets in De Pijp today — a stark contrast from the streets pictured in the video:

Source: ## Bicycle Dutch##
Source: ## Dutch##

4 thoughts on How Children Demanding Play Streets Changed Amsterdam

  1. When I watch this video all the stress, anxiety, and sadness that LA’s streets brought me as a kid and now bring to my kid – it makes me cry.

    We are so far away from this type of movement here but we need to do exactly this type of thing. This needs to happen – but we are too fractured as a people.

    Oh man, I actually cried watching this.

  2. I lived in Amsterdam for a year (2011-2012) and what a difference!

    By Amsterdam standards De Pijp is still a fairly dense area but it’s now much more bike-and-ped friendly, as is the rest of the country.

    One thing that’s fascinating to me is how the transformation of the Netherlands into the ultimate paradise for bikes and pedestrians was not necessarily a foregone conclusion in the 60s-70s. During the postwar era the Netherlands was building a lot of car-centric infrastructure and even demolishing inner city neighborhoods for car-centric infrastructure (more parking lots, freeways, etc.). Then because of grassroots movements it shifted within a decade or so.

    Living in the Netherlands it recent times it was always jarring coming across the odd lingering remnant here and there of 60s-70s car-centric infrastructure that hasn’t yet been removed or updated. For example, there’s this one stretch of road (Valkenburgerstraat which eventually leads to a tunnel going under the IJ river at relatively high speeds for cars) in Amsterdam with a center-lane freeway-style metal divider rail that unfortunately totally breaks up the pleasant little neighborhood streets around it:
    (StreetView at Rapenburg/IJtunnel road and you can see how pedestrian-unfriendly it is)

    It’s near my old apartment so I had plenty of experience with how it significantly obstructs the ability to go east-west through neighborhood streets which should connect (and probably did in earlier decades/centuries). I remember the first time I was on Rapenburg street, which is rudely bisected by the high-speed roadway with no pedestrian crossing due to the freeway-style rail. I dashed across the road, waiting in the center median and jumping over the center divider rail and dashing again finally to safety on the other side. I remember it feeling so weird and then I realized “oh…this is because these kinds of streets don’t usually exist here so I’ve gotten used to not having to deal with this here.” It really is the only time I remember jaywalking in the Netherlands. Normally you don’t have to.

    By American standards it’s not even that crazy of a road but it clearly is one that visually encourages drivers to speed unobstructed and they do go fast there. Even though there is a cycletrack and of course a sidewalk there I noticed myself avoiding that entire stretch both on foot and bike due to how comparatively unpleasant a road it is. That’s of course the subtly negative influence bad infrastructure exerts over us, often without thinking about it, but which most of us in the US deal with all the time.

    For a time that is also what the Dutch were on track to becoming but they eventually nipped that in the bud due to the grassroots movements such as those in this documentary.

  3. I’d imagine most Dutch people felt they were far away from that type of movement in the 1970’s too. But things are very different here:

    We have some great grassroots organizations (could name quite a few in NYC alone) that are already making real progress.

    We have the quick movement of information outside of corporate censorship; many of us feel StreetsBlog is our lifeline from a sea of cars (you should donate).

    And just this year we have thousands more people enjoying the streets outside of cars due to the new bikeshare.

    Now is the time, and this is the place; I’m not sure what more we can ask for (other then the AAA car lovers all moving to Florida or Jersey in mass). It’s by all means a fight (just go to a CB meeting) but it’s a fight in which our side has a lot of great tools.

    If you want change, volunteer with Right of Way, Transportation Alternatives, Times Up, Bike New York, or any of the other local organizations making real change right now (if you pick one that’s not your flavor, try a different one). Or start your own and tell us about it so we can support you. Or start harassing your politicians, so the people’s voices can be heard above the corporations (so be loud). Or join a community board, and be a voice for progressive ideas so the regressive old guard gives up their fight. Or start to talk up these issues on organizations you already belong to, like family, church or clubs. Or write to your local newspaper and harass them to make them publish it. Or just spend more time on the streets making things safer then they were before and supporting those who do the same.

    Think about those old lines about small groups of people changing the world, or being the change you want to see, or just having solidarity. When we stand together, we are unstoppable. Sometimes changing the world is as easy as turning off the TV and stop being scared.

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