Who owns the square, which will soon become one large terrace?


It is quite a transition: after the terraceless spring follows a summer in which one must make an effort not to end up on a terrace. Catering establishments are given permission by many municipalities to extend their terraces to public space: streets, parking spaces and sidewalks for residential houses. In places from Breda to the Frisian village of Eastermar, “terraced seas” are being created. As long as the neighborhood is OK, and as long as there is enough space left to pass, even with a wheelchair. But cafes shouldn’t be afraid of “officials going through the city with a tape measure,” says a spokesman for the City of Amsterdam. “The rules are a guide, not a Bible.”

With this stretch, municipalities reward the patience of entrepreneurs and consumers, who were deprived of draft beer and bitterballen for two and a half months.

But the terraced seas also have losers, such as local residents who experience noise pollution. Here and there this already leads to friction, such as in the Amsterdam Nieuwmarkt neighborhood. Hospitality entrepreneurs signed plans there to fill the entire Nieuwmarkt with patio tables, much to the dismay of local residents.


The issue of terraces touches upon a fundamental question: who owns the public space? “I have been saying for years that it is strange that we make large parts of the public space available for commercial use, and therefore exclude parts of the population,” says Els Leclercq, urban planner at TU Delft. “Then people look at me weird, who say: doesn’t it give the city atmosphere and character? But the question is: where is the limit? ” In a place like the Beestenmarkt in Delft, before Corona already a sea of ​​terraces, that limit has been exceeded.

Maarten Hajer, professor of Urban Futures at Utrecht University, calls the battle between commerce and public access “a subtle process”. Public space also needs commerce, he says. “There is a feeling in sociology: meeting is good, commerce is bad. But it is not that simple. For a properly functioning square it is important that a shop, bakery or café ensures that the place remains clean. And it also depends on what commercial place it is. In the food court of the shopping mall you are more likely to meet other population groups than on a normal terrace. ”

The catering industry is already open in some other European countries. NRC correpondents made a round: coffee in Oslo, beer in Berlin and dinner in Madrid

But even though commercialization is not necessarily a negative thing, public space has become very much under pressure in recent years, says Hajer. And that is worse for some than for others. “People with less money, or with more time, are more dependent on public space. They are not just homeless people, they are often also less well-off older people. We shouldn’t have to exclude a group that has been just as lonely lately. ”

Pleasant places

In short, there must be enough pleasant places where you can hang out without having a menu pushed under your nose. Hajer cites Amsterdam’s Nieuwmarkt as an example of a place where the balance is normally good. “The strength of that place is that you have terraces on the edge, and in between an undefined middle area where you can also drink a beer from the Albert Heijn.”

Sander van der Ham, urban psychologist and author of a book about the function of the sidewalk, hopes that catering entrepreneurs “have a social perspective” on the terrace extension. “Maybe they can also offer some places where you don’t have to consume.” Or they can work with a “delayed cup of coffee”: people who do have money then pay an extra cup of coffee, which is handed out to someone who is not so generous. “This way you can fulfill a very social function in the neighborhood.”

The spokesman for the municipality of Amsterdam sees it as sunny for the less fortunate: the migration to the terraces will start a modest migration. “This will create more space in parks and on benches.”

In recent months, people have become adept at using that space: they were picnicking everywhere on the pavers. Els Leclercq believes this is a positive development: “Using this way of public space is temporary and spontaneous. Coincidental encounters also increase in such an unorganized setting. ”

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