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Amsterdam  sorting machine

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Amsterdam functions as a sorting machine:

Tens of thousands of people settle in the city every year, but the majority of them have to leave the city within a few years.

This study investigates how this sorting process works and how it can be adapted in such a way that it becomes more social, fair and better for the city.


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The number of new residents settling in Amsterdam every year has increased enormously since 2015. The number of settlers from abroad has more than doubled. But Amsterdam is emptying almost as quickly. Most of the settlers will be gone within 5 years. And also the youth of Amsterdam, those who were born in Amsterdam, are leaving the city/have to leave the city. The departures are mainly single young people (25-30 years old) and young families.

The central question in this research: How does the sorting process work, how does the Amsterdam Sorting Machine function? ​


What does the enormous inflow and outflow of Amsterdam residents mean for the character of the city?

Will the city become a kind of hotel, where people stay for a short time, consume and leave again?

What does it mean when only the rich can stay? ​ ​


Amsterdam works like a sorting machine: large numbers of "talented" young people are welcome in the city, are allowed to work or study here for a few years (temporary work contract, temporary living contract, study period) and must then be so successful that they get a permanent work contract and an expensive house can buy in order to stay. Only a small part of the settlers (and Amsterdam youth) succeed in this. The rest has to go. And they often want to leave, among other things because they already knew that their stay here would be temporary.

That is bad for Amsterdam.

Because newcomers do not really “invest” in Amsterdam, do not build a real network and do not establish roots. Many people who want to work for the city, talent that is important to the city, cannot stay here and is lost to the city. More or less the same applies to Amsterdam's youth, except that they are rooted in the city. There must be more opportunities, than money or luck, to settle in Amsterdam for the long term.






































                 Illuatration: Julia van Leeuwen




The economy of Amsterdam is running at full speed, despite a major decline in the years of corona 2020-2021. Amsterdam's tech industry is very successful. After, companies such as Adyen, Molly, Binck and WeTransfer have also become global players. Due to Brexit, a large number of companies have come to Amsterdam. Since 2021, Amsterdam has been the city with the largest stock exchange trade in Europe. A new production company such as bicycle maker Van Moof also grew like crazy and collapsed as quickly as it came. The rise of the platform economy (Airbnb and Uber) was strong in Amsterdam and was followed up during the corona crisis by an explosion of the delivery sector (parcels, meals and groceries). All this creates enormous job growth, partly filled by foreign workers, both from inside and outside the EU.

Amsterdam's economic success also means an enormous growth in business and personal services; from distribution companies to flash delivery, from law firms to domestic help. This concerns not only well-paid jobs, but also a great deal of insecure, temporary, poorly paid work.

What changes in the economy, labor contracts and labor relations can make the sorting process in the labor market more socially just?


The housing market in Amsterdam has largely silted up. Yet tens of thousands of new residents settle in Amsterdam every year. How does that paradox work?

Most of the newcomers in Amsterdam settle in the private non-regulated rent sector, especially in the more expensive segment. Almost half of these homes are rented with a two-year lease, which seems to explain part of the paradox. The law on temporary rent contracts of 2016 makes this possible.

What effect does the influx of wealthy foreigners have on the housing market; partly in view of the fact that they do not have to pay income tax in the Netherlands for the first five years?

According to some brokers, 70-80% of the owner-occupied homes within the Amsterdam ring road go to English speakers. However, when the number of foreign newcomers declined enormously during the corona years, housing prices continued to rise just as fast as in the previous years. Apparently, the demand for owner-occupied homes from foreigners is not only the cause of the high housing prices.

What are the effects of the radical liberalization of the housing market in 2015 and 2016?

What role does the large number of new residential complexes - with apartments of 24 - 27 m2 - built by commercial real estate companies from home and abroad since 2015?

With the introduction of the medium-priced rental sector (€760 - €1,100 per month), the self-occupancy obligation for buyers and a number of other measures, efforts are being made to get the housing market moving again.

But do those who are dependent on social rental housing also benefit from this?

What changes in rental contracts and in the housing market are needed to make the sorting process in the area of housing more socially just.


What happens to social life in Amsterdam when most people can only stay in the city for a short time and the local youth also have to leave the city? What does this mean for the social contacts, the relationships that people enter into - both loosely and intimately - building a social network, feeling at home in the city.

How do you build involvement with the place where you live, the neighbourhood, the city?

How do you get to know the city and how can you contribute to the city?

What is your commitment to sports, the neighbourhood, religion, greenery and nature, cultural life, the entertainment world?

Of course, the massive influx and outflow of residents makes Amsterdam a dynamic Global City, but isn't this at the expense of many of the city's social and cultural qualities?

What would need to change in the social field to make Amsterdam's sorting process more socially just?

Scherm­afbeelding 2023-02-28 om 10.25.45.png


​Amsterdam from Emancipation Machine to Sorting Machine








As a contribution to Cities for Change, program of the Municipality of Amsterdam


Should I Stay or Should I Go (free to The Clash)


Presentation of a 20-minute documentary with some portraits of recent newcomers in Amsterdam and Amsterdam youth with the core question: stay or go and the (im) possibility to stay


The aim is to denounce the fact that the majority of the newcomers in Amsterdam and the Amsterdam youth cannot stay in the city.



Amsterdam was often seen as an emancipation machine. Former GroenLinks councilor Maarten van Poelgeest wrote the booklet 'Amsterdam as an emancipation machine' (2005), in which he argues that Amsterdam has traditionally been a city where many young people settle, who can then develop, develop and emancipate themselves in the city. After which they often leave the city as a family to buy a house with a garden in the region. In many ways they remain part of greater Amsterdam; they often stay there to work, play sports and go out. However, those who wanted to stay in the city, because they opted for the 'metropolitan environment', were also able to do so. So in a sense there was a free choice whether or not to stay in Amsterdam. In this way the city functioned as an emancipation machine.


The enormous increase in the influx of new residents after 2015, the fact that the city has become more expensive and the rapid departure of a large number of newcomers made me wonder whether Amsterdam still functions as an emancipation machine today. To become familiar with urban life in a broad sense, you will have to live in the city for quite a few years. The development and emancipation process, as Van Poelgeest describes, can only take place if you can live in the city for a significant period of time. My position is that Amsterdam no longer functions as an emancipation machine, but rather as a cruel sorting machine for most newcomers. On May 19, 2021, a debate about this took place in Pakhuis de Zwijger between Maarten van Poelgeest and the undersigned.



           Without a teacher: help, the teachers are leaving Amsterdam



















Who can still stay in Amsterdam?


As part of the research program 'Who can still live and work in the city?' of the Inequality Knowledge Center, this documentary was worked on in 2022-2023. Central to the research program was the question of whether key professions can continue to live in the city. By key professions we mean professions that are indispensable for the functioning of the city, such as teachers, healthcare workers, police officers, cleaners, tram and bus drivers. We investigated when people leave the city, they also quit their jobs in the city, which endangers the functioning of the city. ​


The research consisted of a quantitative part, analysis of CBS microdata, and a qualitative part, in-depth interviews and a documentary. The presentation of the results, including the premiere of the documentary, took place on January 25, 2024. See the research results below ​ ​ ​




The documentary focuses on the housing market position of primary school teachers. Four young teachers were followed over the course of 2023, both at school and in their homes. The documentary also discusses the results of the quantitative research with the teachers. For example, the outcome of the data analysis, namely a deteriorated housing market position of teachers, is confronted with the difficult situation of young teachers who want to continue living in the city but are unlikely to be able to stay here.



Jaap Draaisma, February 20, 2024

The Global City as a Sorting Machine

Arrival City revisited


1. From post-industrial economy to digital economy


The term 'post-industrial' suggests that industrial production does not exist/is no longer important. But industrial production is still an essential part of the economy, although the production process has changed. Most industrial production, certainly in Western Europe, is highly digitized. I therefore prefer to speak of an industrial digital economy, and not of post-industrial.

There is a lot of data available about the new economy, new labor relations and new 'makers'. Digitization enabled the enormous size, speed and impact of financial capital on the economy and housing market (both as an investment, as a redistribution of profits and as an extraction).


2. Economy or Real Estate as the dominant factor in nowadays urban developments? 

In my view, the economy functions as the engine of the Sorting-machine. Finance is a part of the economy. This economy needs a lot of young, talented people every year and only the very best can get a permanent contract and a high salary. Housing stock, real estate, services, cultural climate, tolerance and jobs are important to attract young people.

In the book "The Creative Destruction of NYC - engineering the city for the elite” (2017), Alessandro Busa presents the real estate cluster (in his words "'city producers") of New York as the driving machine behind city development.
In the book "The Innovation Complex - Cities, Tech and the New Economy” - 2020 - Sharon Zukin describes the way the digital economy, this 'innovation' sector influences city developments in NYC. The digital economy as the new dominant economy and the way they recruit and form their 'workers'.  


3. The winners and losers of urban development 

The film Push shows the victims of the aggressive way of city development by international firms like Blackstone to a new type of city for the rich and affluent. 
Only in the opening and the closure of the film we see a person for who all these new houses are built. A woman in Toronto with her broker who can buy a house at last. 

A big group of people, the highly paid workers in the new economy, the fintech, digital economy, consultants, insurance, all kind of technical jobs (the famous 'techies') etc. who buy or rent these houses. They can enter the city, and a part of them are sorted out by the sorting machine to stay. In the movie Push I miss this side of the story; in one of the “side films” of Push you mention this new group. Maybe for a next movie called Pull.



4. My research in Amsterdam


The next period, at least until summer 2022, my research will focus on how the Sorting Machine works in Amsterdam. With specific research on the booming (digital) economy,

changes in the housing market and the way recently newcomers “socialize” in the city.

What does this mean for the social live, the social fabric of the city?

What can be the 'social justice' answer to this Sorting Machine? From city governments, social movements, trade unions.



Some specs of Amsterdam


After 2015 the number of people, settling in Amsterdam, exploded. In 2019 it was almost 10% of the total population. Almost the same number left.

Because of changes in laws and regulations around tenants rights and rent contracts, since 2016 all kind of temporary rent contracts are possible in the Netherlands. Until than tenants rights were permanent. Also rent control on social housing was “reformed” = almost ended.
      The result of this is - since 2017 - an explosion of the building of new very small, temporary, socalled 'social' studios in Amsterdam, developed and runned by real estate firms like the USA firm Greystar. Huge blocks of 400 to 1000 units all over the city; mainly in the outer neighborhoods and mainly for young people.

At the age of 27 you have to leave these apartments; then the temporary contracts stops and you make place for another newcomer.
This new housing stock, together with all the new very expensive blocks, welcomes the newcomer in Amsterdam.

A lot of HQ's moved from London to Amsterdam because of the Brexit. Amsterdam is the bigger stock market of Europe now. Many of the Amsterdam techfirms became 'unicorns' the last years and are recruiting thousands of skilled people all over the world.


5. The 4 steps of the sorting machine (comparing cities)


A. Coming in

Is the Open character of the city; the influx of enormous amounts of newcomers every year, a phenomenon of all Global Cities? How accessible are these cities?  How selective are they for people who want to settle? Do they mainly people with money and/ or big talents? Or is it still possible for not-rich people to enter?

B. Being welcomed

How do cities welcome the newcomers, (both foreign and from the country itself) in housing, work, visa, etc. Does the city administration has a program for new inhabitants? Do big firms / universities / institutes organize welcome programs for their new employees?  National, ethnic, religious, etc. groups? Social organizations, not-for-profit and commercial initiatives?


C. Staying


social contacts

social life

Building a social network

The social fabric of the city.


D. leaving

- Do - nowadays - the great majority of the newcomers leave these cities within a few years? (as in opposite to Global and Big Cities as 'arrival city”, where people stay – D. Saunders' book Arrival City). Only rich people can stay or also others?  How does this sorting process works in specific Global Cities?



Jaap Draaisma

Amsterdam, 2021 September 20th

How do Amsterdammers get more opportunities to continue living in the city?

How do you ensure that young people in Amsterdam have a better chance of finding work?

How do you ensure that the new Amsterdammers contribute more to Amsterdam's social life?




For any questions or recommendations, please E-mail: j. or fill out the following form

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