Session 4 - Urban vice, Urban order: regulating safety in public space

Urban vice, Urban order: regulating safety in public space

Vincent Baptist (Erasmus University Rotterdam) 
Criminal or Cosmopolitan: Discourses of Safety on Rotterdam’s Interbellum Pleasurescape in Municipal and Audiovisual Sources
During the interwar period, people in the port city of Rotterdam could endlessly entertain themselves on the Schiedamsedijk. This central connecting street formed Rotterdam’s core pleasure district, linking it to similar zones of exceptional amusement in other port cities, such as Hamburg’s Reeperbahn or Barcelona’s Parallel Avenue. These transnationally connected public entertainment spaces can be conceived as pleasurescapes, whose notorious reputation was often based on their kinship to historical sailortown districts (Milne, 2016). As microcosms that fostered encounters between a variety of actors, pleasurescapes can be regarded and examined as historical breeding grounds through which to better understand the cultural distinctiveness of port cities in general. These maritime urban hubs are often hailed for their open mindset, while also dealing with infamous legacies. Both aspects stand in a complex relationship with each other. Zooming in on quintessential neighbourhoods in port city history, like entertainment areas, helps disentangle these reciprocal forces on a case study-based level.

Researching Rotterdam’s Schiedamsedijk through the conceptual lens of pleasurescapes entails scrutinizing both its spatial and experiential connotations to safety. An initial spatial analysis of the area’s historical entertainment offers insights in the discrepancies between the cosmopolitan image of Schiedamsedijk’s principal amusement venues and the more illicit practices that unfolded in its back alleys (Romer, 1983). Additionally, this paper compares how Schiedamsedijk and the streets around it were represented and discussed in Rotterdam during the 1920s-30s, by investigating the discrepancies between the pleasurescape’s audiovisual representations on the one hand (Paalman, 2011), and how the street was discussed in city council records on the other hand. In doing so, remarks will be formulated on how different spheres of urban discourse, from a city’s cinematic self-image to its municipal deliberation, both install certain ‘regimes of safety’ in order to influence a city’s future attraction and development.

Jasper Bongers (Open University)  
“Give us the fair!” Negotiating perceptions of safety in the context of Utrecht’s fairs (1915-1926)
In 1915, Utrecht’s fair (kermis) was cancelled due to the First World War. This annual feast – offering markets, fairground attractions and a lot of alcohol – was considered to be incompatible with the grief and seriousness called for by the outbreak of war in neighbouring countries. Interestingly, however, the fair was not reinstated after the first shock of war had passed, and even after the war had ended in 1918 the fairs remained cancelled. My paper deals with the attempts of the anti-fair activists to banish the feasts forever, as well as with those of the fair’s proponents to re-start organizing them. The heated debates over Utrecht’s fairs provide an interesting window into perceptions of safety in the early 20th century, for in the discussions between the fair’s opponents and advocates safety and fear were constantly being negotiated. The critics argued that the fairs created a dangerous situation in which vice could thrive, and in which working class men would spend so much money that they could no longer provide for their families. The fair’s champions, including the national interest group for fair-organizers, contested this view, and maintained that the fairs’ reputation for unsafety was undeserved. By examining the letters, petitions, newspaper articles and ‘reports’ with which both sides tried to convince the municipal council and the general public, this paper adds to our understanding of how perceptions of safety were negotiated between 1915 and 1926, when the fairs were (partially) restored. Throughout this paper the complex relationship between perceptions of vice and safety in the early 20th century will be discussed.

Dr. Wim de Jong (Open University) 
The Construction of urban ‘social safety’. Policing ethnic minorities in Amsterdam and Nijmegen, 1970-2000
In the 1960s, urban environments in the Netherlands rapidly changed, partly due to what is often referred to as the ‘urban crisis’: suburbanization and deindustrialization threatened to make Dutch inner cities hollowed out places with bad housing, abandoned by a white flight and left to students, unemployed, senior and immigrant citizens. An array of social problems arose, varying from prostitution to vandalism, a heroin epidemic and petty crime. Often these problems were connected in public opinion with ethnic minorities, while simultaneously ‘antiracism’ was a strong current in political and policy debates.

Until then, ‘sociale veiligheid’, like ‘sociale zekerheid’ (lit. ‘certainty’) denoted ‘social security’, insurance against sickness, accidents and old age. At the turn of the 1980s, ‘sociale veiligheid’ was redefined, signalling a shift towards ‘actuarial justice’: criminal justice approached from the viewpoint of risks, against which criminal justice should be the insurance policy.  Social safety from here on was about objective and subjective safety of citizens in public space. Partly due to the powerful imagery of dangerous parks and high-rises, ‘social safety’ became an influential policy paradigm, as well as a hegemonial emotional discourse, related to concepts such as nuisance, administrative prevention and community policing. This paper analyses the concrete material places this discourse of social safety referred to, such as high-rises, and how they were framed in the policies of municipality and police in Amsterdam and Nijmegen. How did race, class and gender impact this discourse, and what groups and places did it exclude? How did ‘social safety’ as a discursive practice impact the policing of minorities, especially in high-rises?