Who Owns The City?

Political Campaign, 2018

The city of Amsterdam as Scrooge McDuck asking:‘Wanna buy realestate?’

The amount of tourists in Amsterdam has doubled from four to eight million between 2004 and 2017. While the tourism industry has benefited, the city’s inhabitants are faced with skyrocketing real estate prices. Many Amsterdammers are afraid their beloved city will suffer the same fate as Venice, a city that is so popular it has become uninhabitable. Who Owns The City? is a campaign to reclaim the city of Amsterdam for its citizens.

Left: poster by Ruben Pater. Right: I don’t eat monoculture, poster by Yuri Veerman.

In 2004 the municipality launched a campaign to change the image of Amsterdam, which was known for legalized marijuana and sex work, to a city known for innovation, creativity, and mercantilism. Advertising agency Kesselskramer created the campaign ‘I Amsterdam’ that was to communicate that the city is a place where everyone belongs. From now on the ‘I Amsterdam’ logo was to be placed on every poster and advertisement in the city.

I Amsterdam logo on the Museumplein in Amsterdam. Photo Flickr (Christian Lendl).

The Most Photographed Logo in the World

A physical ‘I Amsterdam’ logo measuring 2 by 23,5 meter was placed at the Museumplein (Museum square), a marketing monument to be photographed by tourists with the famous Rijksmuseum in the back. The object that cost €50,000 quickly turned into a symbol of Amsterdam tourism and became an example of its succesful campaign. The logo is estimated to be photographed 6,000 times a day, making it perhaps the most photographed logo in the world.

Left: ‘Where is our dear city?’ (after a quote by the former Major of Amsterdam), poster by Yuri Veerman. Right: ‘How can you live a sustainable life in a three day destination?’, text by Dirk Vis, poster by Ruben Pater.

Rise of the Real Estate Class

The ‘I Amsterdam’ campaign was so succesful that the amount of tourists grew to eight million in 2017, in a city of 850,000 people. At the same time the economic crisis of 2008 and its subsequent austerity measures had hit hard. Wages were frozen and the national budget for mental healthcare and homeless shelters was cut. The amount of homeless people grew between 2008 and 2014, and the number of people in debt has grown since 2008.

After the crisis the housing market stabilized and quickly started growing. Since 2014 the housing prices in Amsterdam have skyrocketed to an average of €409,000 per house in 2017, a 12% annual growth. The online platform Airbnb was allowed to operate in Amsterdam in 2013, which in turn led to higher real estate prices. In three years the amount of listings on Airbnb grew from zero to 25,721 in 2016.

Posters by Ruben Pater.

Amsterdam’s Unique Assets in High Demand

The real estate bubble has led many investers to buy property in Amsterdam, not because they wanted to live there, but for its 12% annual growth. The city of Amsterdam actively promotes real estate investment to foreign investers, and now a fourth of all real estate in Amsterdam is bought without a mortgage. On the I Amsterdam website the city talks about ‘Amsterdam’s Unique Assets in High Demand’ and ‘Investors who have been sleeping for some years now, are waking up to the opportunities’.

The less fortunate Amsterdammers who do not own property are the ones who pay the price. Real estate prices have driven up rents, forcing families to leave their city. Children born in Amsterdam are unlikely to stay in the city unless their parents own property. Social housing units are sold rapidly, and homeowners are renting out their flats via Airbnb for prices up to €300 or more a night, while each day a family is evicted from social housing in Amsterdam.

Printed posters by an unknown supporter.

How Can You Live in A Three-Day Destination?

The city elections of March 2018 led me to start a campaign and invite people to design posters to address the housing issue. Many Amsterdammers are discontent with the city becoming unaffordable and congested with tourism, which is why we created a website with 38 free downloadable posters so people could print them and put them in front of their windows or share them on social media.

This campaign speaks to many Amsterdammers, both homeowners and renters. The city council appears to have lost track of the needs of citizens through their focus on tourism, real estate development, and investers. Citizens want a city that is hospitable, safe, comfortable, and affordable — not just for the wealthy. Through this campaign we hope to unite and inspire the citizens in Amsterdam to reclaim the city.

Visit the website and download the posters


Visualisation of Airbnb in Amsterdam by Kor Dwarshuis
City of Amsterdam statistics
Hanneloes Pen, ‘Aantal dakloze gezinnen in Amsterdam neemt toe’, Het Parool, 2016.
Bart van Zoelen, ‘Langdurige armoede is toch weer toegenomen’, Het Parool, 2018.
Mirjam de Rijk, ‘Te duur om nog sociaal te zijn’, De Groene Amsterdammer, 2017.


Initative by Ruben Pater with Yuri Veerman. Posters by Niels Otterman, Ruben Pater, Bas Postma, Yuri Veerman, and Dirk Vis. Website by Kris Borgerink.


If you live in the Netherlands and want to support initiatives for social housing and more liveable cities, donate to, or contact these organizations:
Fair City Amsterdam
Bond Precaire Woonvormen