Zaanse Schans revisited

After our adventures at Duivenvoorde Castle we now move on to another historically significant place that is ready for an update. Stadsherstel Amsterdam has asked us to help this property-preservation-and-regeneration-company to develop a new strategy and a series of interventions and public services for the Zaanse Schans, a conservation area near Amsterdam with windmills and wooden buildings. With no less than 900.000 visitors on average annually it is one of Holland’s largest tourist attractions. Stadsherstel recently acquired 23 properties and several empty lots with the idea to revitalize the area with new cultural and commercial activities.

We wonder: does tradition allow for real and lasting innovation? Can mass tourism and small initiatives go hand in hand? And can we make people love and (re-) visit the Zaanse Schans?

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Stadsherstel – safeguarding the future and vitality of our built heritage
Stadsherstel acquires, renovates and rents out monuments and buildings with a historical character in Amsterdam and environs, including architectural treasures like De Duif church and The West-Indisch Huis, the former headquarters of the Dutch West India Company (VOC). They also redeveloped Pakhuis de Zwijger, a former warehouse that has been refitted to house various media organisations.
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Zaanse Schans – time capsule for iconic wooden houses and windmills
With its traditional green painted houses, warehouses and windmills the Zaanse Schans gives the feeling of having stepped back into the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries. Most of the buildings were re-located from other areas in the Zaanstreek in the 1960’s and 70’s as owing to urban development they were under threat of obliteration. Although bearing most of the hallmarks of an open-air museum, Zaanse Schans is not formally a museum: people still live here and there’s free and unlimited access to public spaces at all hours of the day. It’s the kind of place you probably visit only once in your lifetime, either as a tourist or during a school trip.
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Overburdened by museums and mass tourism
However, the Zaanse Schans probably boosts the highest number of museums per capita of any community in the world, including the Zaans Museum and various smaller, specialized museums such as the first shop of Albert Heijn (the largest supermarket chain in The Netherlands) and The Dutch Clock Museum. They attract people from all over the world who also love to see the Dutch traditional crafts, like clog and cheese making, that are still being practiced at the Zaanse Schans. But this kind of mass tourism takes a heavy toll, causing criticism among local residents and making the Zaanse Schaanse a no-go area for many (Dutch) people.
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Heritage Marathon in June 2011
Stadsherstel has dedicated itself to a more balanced and sustainable development of the Zaanse Schans, focusing on the long overdue maintenance on some of the houses and trying to offer a broader mix of activities and (thus) to attract a wider audience. We are currently analyzing the problems and potentialities of the place, before we will organize a set of groundbreaking meetings and other activities in the course of 2011, culminating in a week-long ‘heritage marathon’ in the second half of June. As always, we will look for a mix of means and methods, taking our inspiration from near and far and involving experts from many different backgrounds.
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More specific details will follow soon.
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Posted: Wednesday, November 17th, 2010
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