Student blog post by International Master’s in Advanced Research in Criminology student Kyra van der Boor
As of 2023, the streets of the ‘Linker Rottekade’, a street in Crooswijk, Rotterdam, will permanently smell of coffee due to the arrival of Sharo’s coffee hotel. With an in-house roastery and around twenty hotel rooms, Paul Sharo, of the well-known Rotterdam coffee roaster ‘Man met Bril’ (Man with the glasses) will soon welcome guests and baristas from all over Europe to stay at his place. However, behind this positive image of the place, the ‘coffee hotel’ is also the centre of a local neighborhood conflict that has some interesting implications for criminologists interested in the topic of urban inequality, neighborhood effects, and gentrification. This blogpost provides a brief summary of the conflict and concerns among the residents of Crooswijk and addresses some of the challenges that the coffee hotel project raises.
A coffee hotel, what does this entail?
The hotel offers two kinds of services. On the one hand, the hotel is open to guests to enjoy a cup of coffee, visit the roastery, appreciate the Dutch weather on the terrace or stay the night to prolong their stay in Rotterdam. On the other hand, baristas with a passion for coffee who want to learn more about making the perfect cappuccino and upgrade their latte art, are given the possibility to reside in the hotel for a few months.
In Crooswijk? Why there?
Crooswijk, one of the original working-class neighborhoods of Rotterdam, was stated to be the poorest neighborhood of the Netherlands in 2016 (SCP, 2016). After years of spending millions of euros, the situation improved slightly, but there is still much work to be done. Therefore, the municipality uses the process of gentrification to transform the working-class district into a residential/commercial neighborhood (Lees et al., 2013). Rather than seeing the term gentrification as a ‘dirty word’ (Smith, 1996), gentrification is hailed as a savior to revitalize and excite the city of Rotterdam, and specifically, Crooswijk (Gemeente Rotterdam, 2007). With the establishment of the coffee hotel, higher-income residents may be attracted to the neighborhood that was once known for their ‘truly Rotterdam’ inhabitants.
So because of Sharo, some of Crooswijk’s initial habitants have to leave the neighborhood?
To answer this question briefly: yes. However, as this situation occurs alongside a process of gentrification, it’s a bit more complicated. This process can be seen as an active intervention of the municipality to attract newcomers to the neighborhood (Doucet et al., 2011). As Sharo is not necessarily the one behind this ‘masterplan’, and even though he may be classified as an entrepreneur and the embodiment of success by some, he is not necessarily a ‘winner’ in the battle of gentrification. Initially, his wishes to start a hotel elsewhere in Rotterdam were rejected. Consequently, the option for Crooswijk was offered by the municipality as a ‘take-it-or-leave-it-deal’ as was explained by Sharo during our conversation. It was simply the only opportunity for Sharo to make his dreams come true; in essence this makes him more a puppet on a string held by the municipality of Rotterdam, than a ‘winner’ of gentrification.
But in this way, all actors, except for the municipality, can be seen as ‘losers’ of gentrification?
Apart from the fact that gentrification may benefit local inhabitants by enhancing neighborhood quality, providing greater access to services, resources, or local amenities (Chaskin & Joseph, 2013), it is too simplistic to categorize certain actors as ‘winners’ or ‘losers’. Individuals are stuck somewhere in the web of the municipality, whether closer or further away from the spider’s mouth. And although there seems to be clear victims of the process of gentrification, such as local inhabitants that are forced to leave their beloved homes, this categorization is more nuanced than often portrayed and should therefore be used more carefully.
Yet, there should be some kind of responsibility with the entrepreneur in the process of gentrification.
This is certainly true to some extent, and this is, according to what Sharo shared in our conversation, done best trough talking with and about the feelings and struggles of residents of Crooswijk. Nevertheless, some of these critics only wish to point the blame at Sharo for being part of the gentrification process happening in their neighborhood and the structural changes within Crooswijk that they are far from happy with. However, these unsatisfied residents are not willing to talk to the entrepreneur of the coffee hotel when invited to do so, which does not only make the situation more difficult to understand for both sides, but also creates a weaker social cohesion in the neighborhood as residents are not as connected to each other as would be desired.
How can a 25-year-old student can play a role in this?
As somewhat of a caffeine-dependent student myself, I will definitely pay a visit to the much-discussed hotel in Crooswijk. Nevertheless, by subsequently supporting other local businesses we should try to judge entrepreneurs by the quality of their coffee beans and not by the extent to which someone initially belongs or does not belong to a certain neighborhood. After all, can we, in the year 2022, in one of the most superdiverse cities of the Netherlands, still talk about ‘native’ inhabitants? The reality is often far more complicated and nuanced than initially imagined. So, let’s talk to each other with an open attitude, and take life one sip at a time.
Why should criminologists be paying attention to this conflict?
Gentrification, without a doubt, has a significant impact on people, whether positive, negative or both (Atkinson, 2002; Vigdor, 2002). And although the positive side of gentrification is sometimes highlighted, such as the renewal of physical areas, poverty deconcentration, and local service improvements; this side is often outweighed by the negative impact regarding the displacement of residents, community conflicts, loss of affordable housing and even homelessness (Atkinson, 2002; Doucet, 2009). Nevertheless, as this conflict and the situation of Sharo shows us, it is often too black-and-white to classify actors into boxes of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ within the gentrification process. Therefore, it can be advised to use caution when talking about ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of the gentrification process as some people, such as Sharo, might fit into more than one of these boxes.