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A Warning From Amsterdam To Brooklyn: Keep It Real

On a visit to Williamsburg, Amsterdam's deputy mayor talked about the impact of tourism, Airbnb and gentrification. "You have to preserve the diversity of an area."

Posted on June 15, 2015, at 3:51 p.m. ET

Moyan Brenn / Via Flickr: aigle_dore

Kajsa Ollongren, the deputy mayor of Amsterdam, feels right at home in Brooklyn.

"I think it's really vibrant, I love it. You can tell it is a place where lots of things have changed. And where lots of things are happening," she told BuzzFeed News, sitting at a reclaimed wood table in the garage turned design collective turned restaurant Kinfolk, overlooking Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg. "The mix of things is beautiful. We have street art, but nothing this big. Much like Amsterdam, it's so dynamic and rapidly changing."

The borough in New York City, a place once known as New Amsterdam, is growing increasingly similar to its former namesake, Ollongren said.

And it's facing similar challenges. Gentrification, tourism overload, a shortage of affordable housing — Brooklynites and Amsterdamers are voicing many of the same complaints, with Ollongren and her fellow city officials tasked with dealing with the challenges.

"We're trying to show there's more to Amsterdam than the hot spots. We're promoting the 'real' places, like North Amsterdam," she said. "But if too many tourists come, the locals will leave, so you have to hit the right balance."

Ollongren was in town for the "Dutch Innovation" showcase at Brooklyn's Northside festival, bringing with her 25 Dutch startups and entrepreneurs to highlight Amsterdam's status as a budding tech enclave in Europe.

Remko De Waal / Getty Images

That balance, in Amsterdam's case, has included a controversial rejuvenation project in the city's infamous Red Light District, where prostitution and drugs have lured visitors for centuries.

Ollongren was part of the city council who pushed for the policies surrounding the Red Light District's transformation, which included the city buying up brothels and converting their usage, as well as a number of other initiatives to manage the crowding brought on by throngs of tourists.

She has proposed things like car-free streets and curbing the use of home sharing sites like Airbnb, permitting residents to rent out their homes for a maximum of two months per year. The aim is to keep the tourist congestion down in a city where nearly 70% of residents believe there should be fewer outside visitors, so the real Amsterdam doesn't "disappear."

"It's about preserving the diversity of the area," Ollongren said. "The Red Light district is much more mixed now, less windows with prostitutes, more galleries, less 'coffee shops' and more coffee shops where you can actually drink coffee."

"It's been a very active policy. We have been buying up property as a city there and are doing that to promote affordable housing," she said.

The policies to promote affordable housing are in effect throughout all of Amsterdam, where the rents of 50% of the city's housing units are regulated by the government and 30% of the entire city's future new-builds are designated for "income restricted" tenants.

"It's important for us because the city stays the way you want it to be," Ollongren said, "and is not just for the happy few—the highest earners."

So, any advice from Amsterdam for the policymakers of Brooklyn, which has become so popular among tourists and the happy few that it's become both a borough and a brand? Ollongren said that like in Amsterdam, Brooklyn's leadership should embrace the change that comes along with tourism, which also means an influx of cash to local businesses.

"We want a balanced city, where people live and work and visit," Ollongren said. "If you combine these things, it improves the economy, tourism improves the economy. That means all Amsterdamers can live there. We have really good hotels, restaurants, and art; it's because of the tourists."

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