Meeting the Mayor of Amsterdam: what that’s like
A local elementary school filled with local residents of all kinds had a friendly, tea-drinking, homemade baklava-eating hour to ask Eberhard van der Laan, the Mayor of Amsterdam, their pressing questions. Right before, the mayor walked around the recently renovated playground across the street to talk to all ages of youngsters and take part in a mannequin challenge that I joined in on if anybody finds it online.
The questions that were raised, were classics: dust particles emanating from the motorway nearby, promises of building new houses that never materialise, cheaper sports hall for getting unhealthy youngsters to move and a few others that hit home with everyone.
Van der Laan used to be a lawyer as well as the minister for housing and immigration, so his answers mostly pleased the crowd. Some things he had an aide write down as matters he could do something about like not getting any answers from city bureaucrats, other things he explained had so many parties involved that he couldn’t exert much influence on as one person, which is a good thing he said because that would be dictatorial.
I found out he’s well-versed in the art of pull-out quotes. Asked about what will happen to people with polluting vintage cars being banned from the city centre Van der Laan said “old things don’t have a future”. He admitted that lack of housing is one of the biggest problem in our country, as well as in Amsterdam. He also believed that it was good policy to build the nice schools in the poorer neighbourhoods, as we were standing in a newly renovated school, and admitted to those complaining about lack of funding for many things that “when money is taken away, good things are always lost”, which he said is often a national decision he can’t do much about.
In true Dutch straight talk fashion he did tell the crowd that “Amsterdam wasn’t an ATM”, and explained to a nine-year-old girl that, “yes there’s graffiti you want removed near your house, but let me teach you a big word first: ‘nannyism’. That means we can’t tell people what not do to all the time, but give me an email address and I will look into it”.
My only complaint is that he was talking about schools and mentioned “white and dark parents”, alluding to what is still referred to as ‘white schools’, (Dutch, with some money and assumed to have more of a future) and ‘black schools’ (anything that looks foreign although Dutch, is usually poorer and assumed to have less of a future). I hope we stop using those terms very soon because “old things don’t have a future”.
All in all Ebehard van der Laan is a great communicator who made all the attendees, especially the children, feel like they had been heard. He’s the father of five children himself and his interest in what they had to say was genuine. He’s also going to be around for quite a few more years, so it’s good to have met him in person.