‘Wondering the streets of Kanaleneiland Zuid by myself’

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Gemene Grond organizes complaint sessions; you can vent, no one judges. A complaint often also conceals a wish. These complaining sessions can lead to a translation of individual collective questions and desires. With these sessions we collect complaints, feedback and wishes from people living in and around Merwede, to present them together to the parties developing Merwede, including the municipality of Utrecht. Zoraïma Hupkes wrote a diary entry about such a complaining session.

Diary entry by Zoraïma Hupkes

Today I started Part two of our new strategy of visiting Buurthuizen directly, this time in Kanaleneiland Zuid and by myself, my favorite part and close to the canal. I started at Huis van Vrede which surprised me as I read it was a Christian church but when I entered the building it did not at all feel like one, it felt more like a big, yet super cozy wooden cabin in the middle of a concrete forest. While I was looking around I immediately was welcomed by Gerrit, one of the volunteers. He gave me a tour and very proudly showed me the sewing atelier where people can make all kinds of things of re-used leather and fabrics (think of baby blankets, bags, baby toys, wallets etc) which they also sell. They have a beautiful library, a sitting/chill area, a classroom where they give Dutch classes and a “Weggeef Winkel' 'which was recently transformed by volunteer Saskia as the “WonderWinkel”. Apparently they also host a floor for people who are in The Netherlands undocumented. I was also offered really delicious coffee which i didn't really expect, it comes from Nepal as they do some projects there. After my tour I was told to meet with Henk during their lunch at 12:00, everyone can join and have a free sandwich (or two).

When I joined for lunch Henk was very clear that this is not a “buurthuis” like any other, which I agree with, and if I wish to talk to anyone I would be very welcome too. This buurthuis/church is different from others because the visitors are super divers, young, old, and so many different nationalities and because many of their activities are very visually present so it feels very inviting to join. It feels nice to come in when mothers are there having coffee, gossiping and taking care of each other's babies while doing so. Or a grandfather who is chilling in the sitting area reading the latest news, or a man and woman who are sowing in the atelier and other people are preparing shoes and hats for some charity in Greece. At that moment it felt almost utopic I have to say but maybe it was just a snapshot moment.

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"I love Kanaleneiland"

I was there to plan a “session”but I ended up being there for such a long time long I talked to so many different people, I had to write it all down. I joined a group of Moroccan women, around my age, with little kids, also Saskia the volunteer was at that table. Naima, who was feeding her daughter, told me she misses picnic benches, with a roof/canopy over it, about that she was very adamant so you can sit there with sun and rain! Also, she misses more playgrounds for kids. And again, the missing benches in the shopping center reoccurred, now not coming from older people who have painful legs but young mothers who would need to feed their babies, you cannot sit anywhere. When we talked about art she expressed her need for more nature, green and flowers. Saskia mentioned that its not fair all the development and improvements are happening in the “new”areas. She wants more green, more moestuinen, trees, if you make a place prettier it will make it more attractive for people to live in, an example she also used in her transformed Wonderwinkel, it was ugly and chaos before and now it looks fresh and pretty an people are there all the time. her and some of the young mothers also used the same approach with the public space behind the buurthuis where youngsters would vape and smoke joints, the women made it all nice with flowers and plants and now the youngsters don't come anymore. She thinks green is the most effective way of making a place more attractive. Saskia would like more color in all the grayness and concrete of the flats, why can't the buildings not be in another color? She also likes art but made a funny comment about the Ghandi statue at the canal, “why is there, what is the reason”. Funny local anecdote, Gandhi’s glasses get stolen each time it gets replaced. Nadia, also a young mother of twins, throws into the conversation “I love Kanaleneiland, I was born on the Alexanderstraat now live on the Columbusstraat, this is MY neighborhood and I love all of it”. I like all the illustrations and graffiti on the buildings, she wants more of them. And again the flowers but she’s very bothered because people just pick the flowers, “we should make a big sign with Afblijven (van Carry Slee)” thats her dry humor she tells me…I told her this could already be an art piece on itself. Then Fatima enters the building, she is apparently a familiar face in the neighborhood as she’s very active in all kinds of initiatives, like the Armoedecoalitie which she immediately tells me about. With the coalition she aims to be more vocal about poverty and make it visible, take away shame of people. “”if you talk about not having much or being poor, people automatically join your conversation. I also like to look at it more in a broader way, its an event for everyone, for example also for lonely people, we make long community tables, make it nice and we organize the Mooi Meegenomen event, donate kitchen ware, toys and we want to make people happy” She tells me shame is a big part of poverty and she knows since she’s an expert herself. “I like to do this next to being a mother and I like to help people” Fatima mentions that she would like more of this in the neighborhood in general, more activities, spaces where people can be themselves and be creative, for young and old. Speeltuin Anansi is a big playground in the neighborhood but all the mothers at the table agree, they need more of these, playgrounds are BIG need for these mothers. “sometimes it gets so crowded in Anansi, I literally lose my kid” screams Nadia.

When I ask Fatima what she would like in her ideal neighborhood she says something really profound and she uses the renovations of her building as a metaphor as they just painted the outside of her building but inside and underneath the paint the building is rotting still. “You can paint all you want but you need work on the layers below” She feels the municipality and the woningcorporaties are just fixing little beauty errors and all the other money goes into new developments like Merwede, “they just trick us by making these little adjustments but actually its meaningless”. Another thing Fatima says which made me laugh out load was, “I definitely don't want statues or painting of people, i don't know who they are and they don't know me”

The best thing about living in Kanaleneiland, everyone says, is that you live together and the canal! Everybody goes to the canal to walk and chill.

After I was finally done chatting to everyone at Huis van Vrede I was told by many visitors that I should also go to Boshardt Buurthuis, also a very welcoming place but very different. So I went there to see for myself. I was immediately greeted by Bilal who was smoking a cigarette outside underneath a self-crafted partytent/sitting area. When I went inside I immediately met Esther who was super welcoming too. They have a super structured agenda of (creative) activities which I was surprised about, I learned they are part of the Leger Des Heils so maybe it makes sense everything was a bit more “professionally”organized than the other buurthuizen i attended. Anyway, this will all bet to be continued because we’re hosting a session there soon as Esther was really interested in Gemene Grond! I was here for maybe 15 min but also felt at home immediately. I left again with some gratefulness that these gems exist.