Amsterdam children fighting cars in 1972

Amsterdam children fighting cars in 1972

“This would be a perfect area for a trial with a maximum speed of 30km/h” (18mph) explains a traffic expert of the city of Amsterdam to a child in a film that was broadcast on Dutch national TV almost 42 years ago.

The TV documentary was made for a progressive broadcasting corporation and shows the Amsterdam neighbourhood “De Pijp” which was about 100 years old at the time. The homes were run down and small. The streets were never built, nor fit for all the cars brought in by the 40,000 people living in the small area and its many visitors. This led to an overpopulated neighbourhood with a lot of dirt and filth and especially the children suffered. The documentary is one of a series and this particular episode looks at the situation from a child’s perspective.

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The original film was published on YouTube and it was found by the Amsterdam Cycling professor. It is 40 minutes long and of course in Dutch. I made a shorter version, cutting out most images of the housing situation and parts about the dog poo on the streets, to focus primarily on the public space and traffic situation. My excerpt is almost 10 minutes long and I subtitled it in English.

Excerpt from a 1972 TV-documentary about the traffic situation for the children in an old Amsterdam neighbourhood.

The documentary aired on 16th March 1972 a bit later at night (8:55pm). The following day newspaper commentators from the far corners of the country wrote how touched they were by the tough everyday life of these children.

“This film moved me deeply. The situation for the children living in this slowly decaying neighbourhood was portrayed in a beautiful way through their own eyes. Amsterdam alderman Han Lammers had a tough time with them although they just want to play like their parents could. It won’t be easy to close down streets to traffic as was revealed by the scene with the enraged driver who turned violent at the adults who helped the children with closing the street.” (From the Leeuwarder Courant 17th March 1972.)

Even though the alderman’s response to the children’s questions about when their play street would be ready seemed to be evasive, several play streets were indeed built in that very year 1972. The one way street system to make through traffic more difficult was also installed. Today all residential streets are 30km/h zones, although I do not know how soon after 1972 that was implemented.

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The rage of the white van driver and the resolute way in which others dismiss the idea of streets closed to motor traffic are incomprehensible looking at it today from a Dutch view point. It does explain why the actions turned more violent later when streets were closed with car wrecks turned upside down.

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At first I had the feeling this film portrays the birth of the “Stop de Kindermoord” (stop the child murder) organisation. But that emerged only in September 1972 and in a very different region of the country. But newspaper clippings reveal that the protests of December 1972 in this very neighbourhood did take place under the umbrella of “Stop de Kindermoord”. That that organisation grew so quickly makes clear that they were an answer to how a lot of people felt about (child) traffic deaths at that time in the Netherlands.

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Today this neighbourhood “De Pijp” is an area where people want to live. It is close to the city centre and the houses were renovated or renewed. In 2009 13,666 people lived in “Oude Pijp” compared to the 40,000 of 1972. The streets really have a very different feel today. Even though nothing changed about the widths of the streets, the carriage ways were narrowed dramatically, there are far fewer parking spaces for cars and that created room for trees, wider sidewalks and parking spots for many bicycles. With the closure of several streets and the one way system, rat running has been made impossible. But one thing remains very bad: the situation on the main streets that haven’t changed at all in the last 40 years. How necessary it is to update these streets was again brutally underlined just last Friday, when a 7 year old girl on a bicycle was gruesomely killed under the wheels of a garbage truck. She was riding on a cycle lane with her father walking besides her on the side walk. It led to unrest in the neighbourhood and residents now demand changes to especially the through streets.

The percentage of children playing outside on a daily basis is also telling. For the Netherlands as a whole that is 60%, but for Amsterdam and Rotterdam only 16% of the children play outside every day. (Figures via Angela’s Bike Blog)

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So even though a lot has changed for the better here and in the rest of the Netherlands in the last forty years; there is always more to do, the work is never finished!

Reference: 1972 Namens de kinderen van de Pijp

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