Late last year I was alarmed to read about a program put forward in Amsterdam to create so-called “scum villages” to house “persistent troublemakers” tormenting city communities. It’s a fascinating and rather morally questionable way of dealing with anti-social citizens: relocate and isolate them. While I think anyone would love to see their havoc-wreaking neighbors shipped out of sight so you can finally get a good night sleep, if you look at it from the perspective of greater societal welfare, the repercussions of the plan are more alarming. So many questions arise: What evidence is there that isolating bad seeds is the best way to pacify neighborhoods? Is the goal to preserve quality of life for all Dutch, or to nurture the model citizens while damning the rest? Are the poor or ethnic minorities more subject to relocation than the rest of society? Will facilities in these “scum villages” truly be on par with those in the rest of Amsterdam?
As the article notes, this kind of project has been done before, with predictable results for anyone familiar with public housing pitfalls:
The Dutch Parool newspaper observed that the policy was not a new one. In the 19th century, troublemakers were moved to special villages in Drenthe and Overijssel outside Amsterdam. The villages were rarely successful, becoming sink estates for the lawless.
My vision for these “scum villages” (a term which ironically seems to fly in the social welfare-friendly Netherlands, and yet one that I can’t imagine being tied to public policy in the U.S.) is in line with what has happened in Pruitt-Igoe, Cabrini-Green, Queensbridge, and any specialized public housing system that provides “modern” housing for society’s fringe while leaving them without adequate building maintenance, retail, recreation, or public services. And that is a vision of hopelessness, crime, and a general breakdown of the social order. But if Mayor van der Laan’s goal is to simply keep anti-social Amsterdamers out of sight and out of mind, perhaps such consequences would still count as a success.