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Amsterdam will move its red-light district out of the city center, citing tourist behavior

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2/2/2021 Shannon McMahon
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Amsterdam officials have agreed on a proposal by the city’s mayor to shutter its famous red-light district’s brothels and move sex workers out of the city center, the Guardian reports. At a Thursday meeting, the majority of Amsterdam’s city council said they were in favor of creating a new “erotic center” outside of the central district, according to local news reports.

Amsterdam’s city council has gained cross-party support — including that of Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, according to the newspaper — for the effort and says it will overhaul the historic medieval De Wallen (“The Walls”) neighborhood of the city, which has long struggled with the bad behavior of tourists. The government has put out public calls for residents to weigh in on the future of sex work in the city and has not said where it plans to have the brothels reopen.

a person sitting on a chair in front of a building: A sex worker waits for clients behind her window in Amsterdam's red-light district in 2008. (Anoek De Groot/AFP/Getty Images) A sex worker waits for clients behind her window in Amsterdam's red-light district in 2008. (Anoek De Groot/AFP/Getty Images)

Locals living in the red-light district during the pandemic, which has shut down tourism to the region, have told By The Way of the relief that an extended break from over-tourism has brought. The area has become punctuated with signs in English that warn visitors, “Don’t pee in the street,” “No alcohol in public spaces,” “Put your trash in the bin” and “Fine: 140 euros.”

‘The city is ours again’: How the pandemic relieved Amsterdam of overtourism

“This is about a reset of Amsterdam as a visitor city,” Dennis Boutkan, a Dutch Labour Party representative, told the Guardian of the change. “Tourists are welcome to enjoy the beauty and freedom of the city, but not at any cost.”

Video: Amsterdam May Move Its Red Light District Out of the City Center (Travel + Leisure)

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Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema, of the country’s Green party (GroenLinks), first proposed the location change and the closing of many of the district’s sex-worker windows in 2019, noting that tourists often visited the red-light district to gawk at the sex workers from the streets rather than partake in the legal brothels. The city shut down guided tours in the red-light-district area in early 2020.

Tourism has made the area “no longer an intimate district,” Halsema told the Guardian in 2019. “If you walk through the very narrow streets, you see huge crowds of tourists standing in front of the windows photographing foreign women who are vulnerable and laughing at them.” Halsema has said she does not wish to outlaw sex work altogether but wants to protect the sex workers who make up Amsterdam’s brothels.

A local’s guide to Amsterdam

CDA, a Christian-democratic political party in Europe, which has lobbied for sex work to be made illegal in the Netherlands, voiced its support for the measure, as well as for restricting drug sales in the area, on Twitter last week. The city has also been weighing a proposal by Halsema to close down the city’s cannabis coffee shops to tourists.

Amsterdam, which is under lockdown until Feb. 9 because of the pandemic, advises travelers not to visit the Netherlands “unless it is strictly necessary.” Americans remain banned from entering the European Union because of the pandemic.

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