champagne anarchist | armchair activist

Amsterdam houses on the Chinese market

In the Guardian, London mayor Sadiq Khan has announced the launch of an investigation into the effect of foreign investment on the London housing market. In Amsterdam, concerns have been voiced over super rich Russians and Chinese buying up property, although this phenomenon is probably in its infancy compared to London. Newspaper het Parool reported that 15 expensive houses have been sold to rich Chinese and Russians in 2014 and identified a canal house, asking price 6.7 million euros, that had been sold to an ‘international investor’.[1]

The Guardian article mentions Juwai.com, «a website that aims to pair Chinese investors with property developers overseas». If Amsterdam property is offered for sale to Chinese buyers, it might be listed there, although houses may also be sold through less transparent channels.

It turns out the site currently contains some thirty Amsterdam houses, offered for sale by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and other agents. The median asking price is about 1.6 million euros, with a maximum of 7.9 million euros. Unsurprisingly, they tend to be located in the posh areas of town: Canal Belt, Vondelpark, Zuidas. Incidentally, the website also contains quite a few houses in affluent villages like Aerdenhout.

Juwai has published lists of most-viewed cities. In Q4 2015 Amsterdam was the 4th most popular European city among Chinese prospective buyers. In Q1 2016 it dropped to position 8, which suggests the ranking is rather volatile.

Mind you, I have no problem per se with Chinese or Russians buying Amsterdam houses. I do think it’s a problem when rich people - be they Dutch or foreign - use houses as an investment object and drive up housing prices. But this is part of a broader problem, to do with issues like wealth inequality and the social housing sell-off.

While the scale of speculation and unoccupied houses isn’t anywhere near what’s happening in London, the Amsterdam city government warns that «it cannot be ruled out that such developments will also take place in Amsterdam.» But as De Groene argued, that doesn’t depend on Chinese and Russians buying up canal houses, but on what we’re willing to do about our housing market.

Method

A practical issue I ran into was how to search a website in Chinese. In a variation on a trick I learned from Henk van Ess, I used Google Translate to look up the Simplified Chinese translation of ‘Amsterdam’. Then I searched for 阿姆斯特丹 site:juwai.com. One of the first search results was the page NLproperty, which, as you’d expect, lists property in the Netherlands. From there it was easy to find the property in Amsterdam.


  1. Parool. According to city government data (pdf), 6 houses were sold to foreigners at a price above 1 million euros in 2014, which suggests the sources quoted by het Parool have a lower threshold for expensive housing.  ↩

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Exploring tax haven Amsterdam

In 2012, I mapped the geographical evolution of Amsterdam’s trust offices. Since 2006, many had changed their name or moved to a different location, resulting in four major concentrations: Zuidoost, Prins Bernhardplein, Zuidas and Naritaweg.

The other day I ran into a new map (pdf) of tax haven Amsterdam. Judging by this map, Amsterdam’s tax avoidance geography hasn’t changed much since 2012. The map was posted online by Action Aid on occasion of their AMSTERDAM TAX TOUR - THE BIKE EDITION. Sounds like fun and I would’ve have loved to cycle along, but unfortunately it coincides with a previous appointment.

Incidentally, Wired did a global tax avoidance map, which also features Amsterdam.

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In 1960, 29 Dutch MPs had a trade union background. Today, nine

After the Second World War, almost one in five members of the Dutch Lower House had a trade union background (in 1956, the Lower House expanded from 100 to 150 members). Then change set in. In 1960 there were 29 MPs with a trade union background; today nine.1 The largest decline was between 1960 and 1980.

The position of workers hasn’t gotten any better since 1980 - partly as a result of government policies.2 More workers have precarious jobs, the social safety net has been reduced and workers receive an ever smaller share of the proceeds of their labour. In many sectors, deregulation and privatisations have produced cut-throat competition, at the expense of workers. Austerity has deteriorated the quality of public services and destroyed jobs.

The key task of unions is to help workers organise so they’re not powerless vis-a-vis their employers. But in many ways, politicians set the rules that govern the labour market. Therefore, Dutch unions should probably engage more actively in politics - for example by mobilising their members to vote in elections. Further, it’s important to train union members for leading positions within the union and in politics.

Method

The analysis is based on the resumes of post-WWII members of the Lower House published on Parlement.com. I counted occurances of the following union federation names: 'FNV', 'CNV', 'NKV', 'NVV', 'EVC', 'RKWV', 'KAB'.

Some notes:

  • I didn’t count mentions of unions affiliated to these federations - that would hardly be feasible given given how many there are and the changes that have occured over time;
  • I manually excluded a number of cases where names of union federations occured in resumes. Reasons include: the reference was to an organisation with a name that is identical to one of the union federations’ names; someone merely sat on a joint committee of a political party and a trade union; etcetera;
  • I did not include the small unions / union federations that represent high-educated professionals, but including them would have had a negligeable effect on the outcome.

I recorded the start and end date for each period any of these persons was a member of the Lower House. Then I defined periods using all those dates as partitions (I ended up with over a thousand periods). For each period, I checked how many people with a union background were members of the Lower House during that period.


  1. In some European countries, the relation between politics and the union movement is dominated by the social-democrat party. In the Netherlands, there are also many christian-democrat MPs with a union background. Their number shows a similar development as the number of social-democrat MPs with a union background. The current MPs with a union background are Harm Brouwer (PvdA, FNV), Sjoera Dikkers (PvdA, CNV), Fatma Koser Kaya (D66, FNV), John Kerstens (PvdA, FNV) Jesse Klaver (GroenLinks, CNV), Pieter Omtzigt (CDA, CNV), Michel Rog (CDA, CNV), Paul Ulenbelt (SP, FNV / NVV) and Linda Voortman (GroenLinks, FNV).

  2. That’s not to say that the background of MPs directly influenced government policy - the relationship may well be more complex.

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Beautiful relief maps from Stamen

At Nathan Yau’s Flowing Data, I read that Stamen Terrain maps are now available globally, not just for the United States. Stamen uses Open Street Map and their tiles can be used with Leaflet.

One thing about relief maps is that they rub it in how embarrassingly flat the Netherlands are. For example, here’s the Oude Holleweg near Nijmegen (the nearby Van Randwijckweg was in this year’s Giro). It’s just a 70 meter height difference, but with gradients around 14% it’s one of the most challenging climbs in the Netherlands. Apparently, cyclists are not allowed to ride it downhill because that’s considered dangerous (update: I checked, it’s true, descending is not allowed). But if you look at the map, it doesn’t seem all that impressive.

Be that as it may, the Stamen Terrain maps «sure are pretty to look at», as Yau put it. Even when there’s hardly any elevation to show.

Has Google Maps found a way to have its cake and eat it

PL Takbuurt

Not interesting: P.L. Takbuurt

Google Maps are for transportation; Apple Maps are more of an advertising channel, I tweeted a while ago. That was based on a fascinating analysis by Justin O’Beirne, who found, among other things, that Google Maps show far more rail and underground stations, while Apple Maps show far more restaurants and shops.

However, things may have changed in a way. The CityMetric blog of the New Statesman reports that Google has been adding orangey areas to its maps. As Google explains, they represent areas of interest:

Whether you’re looking for a hotel in a hot spot or just trying to determine which way to go after exiting the subway in a new place, areas of interest will help you find what you’re looking for with just a couple swipes and a zoom.

We determine areas of interest with an algorithmic process that allows us to highlight the areas with the highest concentration of restaurants, bars and shops. In high-density areas like NYC, we use a human touch to make sure we’re showing the most active areas.

Assuming they haven’t sacrificed any stations, this suggests they have found a way to have their cake and eat it: remain useful for transportation purposes while adding marketing opportunities.

However, CityMetric writer John Elledge is not impressed by Google’s algorithm to identify areas of interest. He argues that «an algorithm that thinks Trafalgar Square is less an area of interest than the restaurants across the road is not fit for purpose».

As for Amsterdam, Google’s algorithm seems to be relatively good at identifying lively neighbourhoods, although they may have missed a few. On the other hand, the Museumplein, where the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk are, isn’t marked as interesting, but then I’m sure tourists don’t need Google Maps to tell them to go there. Some of the most spectacular examples of Amsterdam School architecture (around P.L. Takstraat, Zaanhof) are similarly overlooked. By contrast, rather dull shopping centres such as Oostpoort are marked as interesting.

All in all, the correct designation for Google’s orangey areas would perhaps be commercial areas rather than areas of interest.

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