Once Unfashionable, Noord District of Amsterdam Gains Cachet

13 Apr

AMSTERDAM — It took a temperature of just 7 degrees Celsius to fill the terrace of the cafe-­restaurant De Pont in northern Amsterdam. While the young crowd wore coats on this Monday afternoon in March, they still seemed happy to catch every available sun ray, sipping coffee as they watched fellow Amsterdammers cycle past.

For decades the district of Noord, or North, was an undesirable place. But in recent years the demand for housing and offices in the city center has increased so much, and the district improved so much, that Noord is now an attractive alternative.

The ferry to Noord, with in the back the EYE film museum and the former Shell tower. (Photo Peter Teffer)

The ferry to Noord, with in the back the EYE film museum and the former Shell tower. (Photo Peter Teffer)

The area is separated from the rest of the Dutch capital by the river IJ, but the ferry ride takes only a few minutes.

“The northern shore is so close that it’s actually becoming a part of downtown,” said Jos Gadet, an urban geographer.

And, according to Pararius, a Dutch Web site on rental housing, the average monthly rental price in Noord was €12.04 per square meter, or $1.46 per square foot, in the first quarter of this year, compared with an average of €17.58 in the whole of Amsterdam.

Much of the river’s north bank has been transformed in recent years, and its showpiece now is immediately visible to travelers arriving on the ferry: the EYE Film Institute Netherlands, a museum that Queen Beatrix opened officially on April 4.

The museum is in Overhoeks, an area covering 20 hectares, or 49 acres, that Royal Dutch Shell used for factories until it sold the property to the city in 2000. Now the land is being filled with luxurious apartment buildings, mostly in yellow or cream colored brick with large windows and balconies.

“It’s amazing to live here, so close to the water,” said Anita Limburg, 58, who works as a temporary manager. Although she grew up in Amsterdam, she said, she never considered living in the north “until I visited my daughter, who moved here — I was sold immediately.”

The Noord area Overhoeks, with on the right the EYE film museum. (Photo Peter Teffer)

The Noord area Overhoeks, with on the right the EYE film museum. (Photo Peter Teffer)

“I love the Mediterranean style of these apartments and with the ferry you’re downtown in five minutes,” said Ms. Limburg, who moved to Overhoeks last summer.

Ms. Limburg’s apartment, which is on the ground floor with two large windows in its facade, also has a large garden with some flowers and garden furniture. She pays €1,200, or about $1,570, for her two­bedroom apartment, which covers of 97 square meters, or 1,044 square feet.

Noord, where the city’s gallows were erected in 1538 and, as the centuries passed, the poorest workers lived, is now one of the city’s seven administrative districts, each with its own councils and authority.

Theo Fransman, who became Noord’s first district mayor in 1981 and has since died, once called his district ‘’Amsterdam’s drain.”

Rob Post, the current district mayor, said, “I don’t like that word ‘drain’ so much, but it’s true that Noord often has the lowest scores with regards to income and education.”

But he added: “Noord’s image has improved a lot. Nowadays people are proud to tell a group at a birthday party that they are moving to Noord. That is very different than 10 years ago, when people would have asked you,‘Why would you move to Noord?”’

When Jan Donkers grew up in Noord in the late 1950s and early ’60s, there was no high school, no movie theaters and few cafes — a world he described in his book, “Zo Dicht Bij Amsterdam,” or “So Close to Amsterdam.” Since the book came out in 1996, Mr. Donkers has revised it several times, adding sections with a more positive tone, but he has not moved back.

“The places in Noord where I would like to live are now unaffordable to me,” he said. “After I had left Noord, my mother regularly sent me advertisements for houses for sale on the Nieuwendammerdijk. If only I had a bought a house then.”

For example, a five-­room house at 15 Nieuwendammerdijk, built in 1900, is for sale at €450,000 and was listed for sale in November. It has 110 square meters of living space and a back yard and stands at the beginning of the neighborhood’s long dike.

“Even though this isn’t the most beautiful house on the dike, we have on average three viewers a week,” said Bernard Melchers of the real estate agency Hoekstra and Van Eck. “The Nieuwendammerdijk is always popular.”

Mr. Melchers said the employees of companies moving into Noord are increasingly interested in living in the area. These companies mostly are in the creative industries, like the film distributor A­Film, MTV Networks Benelux and the popular Dutch blog GeenStijl.

Noord has 87,000 of Amsterdam’s 780,000 inhabitants and, while many work outside the district, Mr. Post, the district mayor, noted that “when there are job openings, these are also potentially jobs for northerners.”

“This is a slow process,” he said, “but the current development is definitely beneficial for northerners.”

Mr. Post said 5,000 jobs had been created in the district in the past seven years, bringing the area’s total to 27,000. He said the balance between jobs and the population “is still skewed, but it’s changing for the better.”

While development along the shoreline is the most obvious, there also has been growth farther north in an area called Elzenhagen.

Blauwhoed is one of the real estate companies developing family homes in the area, including Villa Azul, a set of 18 colorful residences that offer 154 square meters to 180 square meters of living space. The houses stand right alongside the A10 highway, but a sound barrier ensures that a visitor still can hear birds chirping through open windows.

Three of the smaller homes still are available, at €260,000 each; the larger homes all have sold for around €369,000.

The neighborhood is only a few minutes’ walk from the spot where a station is to be built for a new metro line, scheduled for 2017. It will cut the trip to downtown Amsterdam , which now takes about 35 minutes, to less than 10.

But as Karin Timmer, a saleswoman for Blauwhoed, said as she showed one of the Villa Azul properties, “In these economic times people are buying pleasant houses to live in now, not because it is a smart investment for the future, and this is a very pleasant house.”

Gepubliceerd op donderdag 12 april 2012 op de website van The New York Times en op vrijdag 13 april in de papieren editie van de International Herald Tribune

Eén reactie to “Once Unfashionable, Noord District of Amsterdam Gains Cachet”

  1. Ron Katwijk 15 april 2012 bij 02:04 #

    Gefeliciteerd, Peter, met je fantastische artikel in the Herald Tribune and the NY times! Als ik ooit nog besluit naar Nederland terug te keren dan zal ik aan de hand van dit stukje serieus overwegen naar Noord te kijken voor een mooie woning aan het water! Warme lente groetjes uit Seoul van Yogi Ron

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