champagne anarchist | armchair activist

Which Amsterdam neighbourhoods might qualify for an Airbnb ban

Last week, city council member Sofyan Mbarki (Social-Democrats) proposed a motion to ban holiday rentals in Amsterdam neighbourhoods such as the Haarlemmerbuurt, the Kinkerbuurt and the Wallen. A concentration of holiday rentals results in rising house prices, lower social cohesion, increasing pressure on the housing market and inequality, he argued. The motion has support from a majority of the council.

The city government is inclined to implement the motion, but alderman Laurens Ivens (Socialist Party) wants to study the legal aspects. He considers the neighbourhoods mentioned in the motion good candidates for a ban on holiday rentals, but he doesn’t rule out that other neighbourhoods may be selected.

So what neighbourhoods might qualify? One criterion might be Airbnb density, which is shown on the map below (for caveats see Method below).

Unsurprisingly, neighbourhoods with high Airbnb density overlap with areas where residents complain about holiday rentals: Centrum-West, Centrum-Oost, Westerpark, Oud-West/De Baarsjes and De Pijp/Rivierenbuurt (source).

Airbnb frequently claims that it contributes to tourist dispersion because many hosts are located outside the city centre. However, the map suggests that Airbnb is in fact heavily concentrated in neighbourhoods such as the Wallen, the Jordaan, the Pijp and the Kinkerbuurt. While some of these neighbourhoods are outside the city centre, the pattern appears to be concentration rather than dispersion.

While these neighbourhoods would be likely candidates for a ban on holiday rentals, Ivens may also want to anticipate future developments. A number of neighbourhoods still have a relatively low Airbnb density, but have seen their density double or even almost triple over the past three years: Transvaalbuurt, Hoofdweg e.o., Van Galenbuurt and Westindische Buurt.

UPDATE - It was rightly pointed out that Airbnb density partly reflects housing density. An alternative measure would be Airbnb relative to addresses or population. However, this would result in high values for some areas with low population density where holiday rentals don’t appear to be perceived as much as a problem as in some of the more densely populated areas.

See also:

  • Is tourist dispersion working? An analysis of Lonely Planet maps
  • Airbnb’s agreement with Amsterdam: some insights from scraped data

Method

Both Murray Cox’s Inside Airbnb and Tom Slee provide data collected by scraping the Airbnb website. While this data has some limitations, it’s probably the best publicly available data source on Airbnb. Since Tom Slee stopped collecting data last year, I used Inside Airbnb data for the current article. A discussion of methodological aspects related to that data is here.

In addition, I used land surface data from Statistics Netherlands (CBS). This data is for 2017.

I calculated an indicator for Airbnb density in the following way:

  • I assigned each listing to a neighbourhood (note that coordinates for listings aren’t 100% accurate as discussed by Cox);
  • For each listing, I calculated an indicator for the number of stays as: reviews per month (an indicator of the number of rentals) * the minimum length of stay (capped at 3 nights following this study) * the number of beds (an indicator for the number of guests, capped at 4 because that’s the maximum number of guests allowed by local regulations);
  • I summed that number for each neighbourhood and divided that by the land surface of the neighbourhood (ha).

Note that the indicator for the number stays will not be equal to the actual number of stays, for a number of reasons:

  • It’s possible that not all beds are occupied;
  • Not all guests write a review (Cox suggests the number of rentals could be twice as high as the number of reviews);
  • People may stay longer than the minimum number of nights;
  • Sometimes more than four people may stay in an Airbnb, despite the fact that that’s not allowed;
  • For some listings, the indicator could not be calculated because of missing data (about 11.4%).

According to Airbnb, the number of stays in Amsterdam is 2.5 million. Based on that number, the actual number of stays would be about 3 times as high as the indicator for the number of stays I calculated. Given the considerations listed above, that’s more or less what one would expect.

Python script here.

After the voter revolt: Collaboration in the Amsterdam city council

The 21 March city council election saw a bit of a voter revolt. Four new parties got elected onto the city council, thanks primarily to voters in the less affluent, peripheral parts of the city. The election outcome reflects Amsterdam’s social divide.

As a result, the composition of the city council changed considerably. So how are the established parties and the new parties getting along?

Before trying to answer that question, let’s have a look at collaboration in the previous city council. There was a left-wing majority in the council, but the government was relatively right-leaning. There was an effective opposition, with GroenLinks (Green Party) and PvdA (Social-Democrats) frequently collaborating to file motions and amendmends.

The chart below shows collaboration in the current city council. The city now has a more left-leaning coalition of GroenLinks, D66, PvdA, and SP. The pattern of collaboration has changed considerably.

The chart suggests that there are three clusters in the city council. One contains the coalition parties GroenLinks, D66, PvdA, and SP. The second contains right-wing / conservative parties VVD, CDA, FvD and PvdO. And the third contains DENK, BIJ1 and ChristenUnie. PvdD (Party for the Animals) appears to be a bit of an outsider by this measure.

Opposition

Are opposition parties able to exert influence, despite their divisions? An interesting measure is whether they succeed in getting proposals adopted despite a part of the coalition voting against. So far, this has happened twice.

One case was a motion from Diederik Boomsma (CDA), asking to provide parking permits to people who have a private garage but have turned it into something else. Coalition party GroenLinks voted against, arguing that people who have made the decision to use their garage for other purposes are now turning to the city to solve their parking problem.

The second one was a motion from Sylvana Simons (BIJ1) asking to the local government to support teachers in their fight for fair wages. PvdA voted against, arguing that the alderwoman had already taken a stand.

The motions can be downloaded here, and here’s a Python script to process them.

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Trust instead of algorithms

A number of Dutch cities have contracted a company named Totta data lab to predict which welfare recipients may have committed fraud (the cities were somewhat secretive about this approach, but newspaper NRC wrote about it last spring). Totta has trained algorithms on a considerable amount of personal data: 2 to 3 hundred variables over a period of 25 years.

Such analyses carry the risk that existing biases are reproduced:

Luk [A Totta spokesperson] says that in some municipalities more fraud is found among people who have a partner (e.g., they don’t report income), whereas in others it is people without a partner (failing to report they live together). «But it’s quite possible that only that group has been investigated and we build our algorithms on that.»

Luk says they sometimes add ‘deviant’ citizens to the suspects, apparently in an attempt to look beyond the usual suspects.

Another problem is the lack of transparency regarding how this type of algorithms work. Totta doesn’t disclose its algorithms because it wants to protect its business interests; further, it can be difficult to interpret and explain how algorithms work. As a result, the government is unable to explain what criteria it uses to prepare decisions that affect citizens. Recently, the Dutch Council of State expressed concerns over digital decision-making by the government.

Proponents of algorithms argue that they help to detect more fraud while reducing the burden for innocent citizens. In fact, there may not be such a clear distinction. The organisation of welfare agencies said that alleged welfare frauds are often people who mean no harm, but who get into trouble as a result of complex and ambiguous welfare rules.

Still, Amsterdam city council member Anne Marttin (VVD) finds the approach interesting. She asked if Amsterdam uses algorithms and data mining to detect welfare fraude. The answer is no. This is why:

The city government is aware of the use by other municipalities of algorithms and/or data mining to fight welfare fraud. The city does not use such instruments to deal with or prevent welfare fraud. […]

Our services for welfare recipients are based on trust. Further, the city government attaches great importance to the privacy of citizens and the way in which their data is used by the government, for example to develop algorithms. The city government thinks it’s very important that the use of data mining and algorithms doesn’t have a negative impact on the privacy and the legal protection of citizens.

Source (pdf)

Scooter-free cycle tracks in Amsterdam

Amsterdam plans to ban scooters from most cycle tracks. Currently, cycle tracks are still used by the so-called snorfiets category which has a speed limit of 25km/h - although most ride (much) faster. The measure will make cycle tracks safer for cyclists, and it will also result in cleaner air on cycle tracks.

The city has produced a map showing the new snorfiets regime. By my calculations, snorfietsen will have to use the road on a total of 180km (blue on the map) and they will be banned from another 71km of routes where there’s only a cycle track (marked in red). However, they’ll still be allowed to use about 93km of cycle tracks (green), at least for now.

Busy cycle tracks

To decide where to ban scooters from the cycle track, the city used data from the Fietstelweek, the large-scale initiative to collect smartphone location data from cyclists. This is interesting, since governments have complained that the number of participants in the Fietstelweek is declining (they started experimenting with Strava data instead).

Perhaps that’s why the city of Amsterdam used the 2016 edition of the Fietstelweek (rather than 2017) to assess how busy cycle tracks are. It used its own traffic counts to validate the Fietstelweek data. The Mathematics Centre of the University of Amsterdam deemed the method used ‘reliable and suitable’.

I’ve created a map to show how the new snorfiets regime compares to Fietstelweek data. The width of the pink lines corresponds to the number of cyclists who used a route; the green dotted line shows where snorfietsen will still be allowed to use the cycle track.

It appears that the city has done a decent job at avoiding the busiest cycling routes (in some cases, this is because these routes don’t have separate bicycle tracks to begin with).

That said, some problems remain. One example is the cycle track along the IJ north of Central Station, which can be very busy and where some snorfiets riders overtake other traffic in a dangerous way. And there’s the Amsterdamse Brug and Schellingwouder Brug (the bridges to the northeast of Amsterdam), where cycle tracks are too narrow for snorfietsen.

Making all cycle tracks scooter-free

In the future, the city intends to ban scooters from all mandatory cycle tracks within the A10 Ring Road. Obviously, they want to do this without compromising the safety of snorfiets riders. This will be easier on routes where car speed is already low.

The map below shows the current average car speed on major roads. The green lines indicate where snorfiets riders will initially be allowed to continue using the cycle track.

Of course I don’t know what the situation is when you’re reading this, but likely some of the highest car speeds (on sections where snorfietsen will initially be allowed to use the cycle track) will be on the Gooiseweg, entering the city centre from the southeast, and the aforementioned Amsterdamsebrug and Schellingwouderbrug. On those bridges, many motorists exceed the speed limit. The city wants to change the road design to invite lower speeds before banning snorfietsen from the cycle track.

Elsewhere, it should be relatively easy to make the remaining cycle tracks scooter-free. Of course, a more practical solution would be to abolish the snorfiets category altogether.

If you wish to respond to the city’s plans, you can use this form. The deadline is 24 September.

Method

I used Qgis to create the first map and Leaflet for the second. I used GeoPandas and Shapely to calculate lengths. On the first map, the width of the pink may be slightly distorted due to varying distances between cycle routes in opposite directions.

Alas! They don’t make the Joep bicycle anymore

Photo: Gonca Akyar

[This is a translation of an article from 2016] - I think the Joep bicycle - and the women’s version Ari - were launched in 2008. Joep Salden, owner of a bicycle shop in Utrecht, designed a minimalistic, functional bicycle, without any unnecessary accessories. The only concession was a bicycle bell. «You’ll need one; on this bicycle you’ll overtake anyone», Salden said when I bought my greyish green Joep in 2009.

I’m happy with my Joep and I’m not the only one: Utrecht alderman Lot van Hooijdonk owns one too. TestKees, the bicycle tester of cyclists’ organisation Fietsersbond, tested a number of fast city bicycles in 2009. His conclusion at the time:

Joep and Ari mainly stand out because of the minimalistic assemblage and the beautiful classic look. The frame and the parts go well together. (…) It’s clearly faster than the VanMoof and much faster than the luxurious city bicycles with gear hub and suspension that have been so popular in the Netherlands for years.

For Salden, the fact that his bicycles look good came second. «I appreciate that people are enthousiastic about how it looks, but for me the most important thing is for them to ride off thinking: that’s a smooth ride!», he said in an interview. The bicycle was supposed to last at least ten years.

Imitation

Coincidence or imitation: by now, there are various bicycles on the market with designs and colours reminiscent of Salden’s bicycles. Take the citybike, since rebranded courier bike, introduced by the Hema department store in 2011. On the face of it, they look a lot like the Joep and Ari - even though the execution is inferior, with wide aluminium tubes and a comfort saddle.

In Amsterdam, I was once addressed by the owners of a bicycle shop at the Weesperplein. They said my Joep was a beautiful bicycle, but also an imitation of the Achielle bicycles they sold. But I don’t think it’s true Salden has imitated Achielle. That said, Achielle has beautiful Sam and Saar bicycles that show similarities to the Joep and Ari.[1]

Interestingly, Salden had his frames built in Belgium. Achielle is also based in Belgium, and has its origins in a family business of frame builders. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Joep frames used to be built by Achielle.

[Update: on Twitter, Achielle has since stated that they used to build the Joep bicycles and that the frames are the same as those of the Sam and Saar.]

Someone else once said my Joep is reminiscent of the VanMoof bicycle produced in Amsterdam, but I have to disagree. Tastes differ, but I think the Joep is restrained and elegant, whereas the VanMoof is neither.

Out of business

Currently, I use my Joep in Utrecht, where I work. It isn’t as shiny anymore as when I bought it, but it’s still a beautiful bicycle. What’s more, it still runs very smoothly, even though it has seen little maintenance.

Meanwhile, I needed a new bicyle in Amsterdam. I reckoned I’d just buy another Joep. But the website of Salden’s bicycle shop, Het Fietspad, was no longer online and its phone number had been disconnected.

At the location of Het Fietspad, there’s now another bicycle shop, Cycleworks, with beautiful old road bicycles hanging from the wall. They told me that Salden is out of business for good. In fact, he has been for a while, as I found out later.[2] Alas!

Meanwhile, I’ve placed an order for a shiny black Achielle Sam with path racer handlebars. Also quite nice.


  1. Especially the version with the lightly bent Miel handlebars. The oldest references to the Sam and Saar I could find on Google are from 2010 - that’s why I don’t think Salden imitated them.  ↩

  2. According to the Chamber of Commerce, Het Fietspad went out of business on 14 January 2015.  ↩

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