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Red light district brightens its image

Marketplace Staff Jul 17, 2008

Red light district brightens its image

Marketplace Staff Jul 17, 2008


Scott Jagow: Not that most people can afford to go to Europe right now, but it’s still a great summer vacation.

Amsterdam is still one of the biggest draws for its canals, art museums… other things. Actually, for better or worse, the city is trying to clean things up a bit.

Brett Neely has our story.

Brett Neely: Amsterdam’s Red Light District is an amusement park of sin. In red-lit storefront windows, barely-dressed prostitutes pose seductively and try to lure customers.

But lately, some of the windows have stopped showing off skin. One window displays the latest haute couture from fashion designer Conny Groenewegen. She says the location is perfect.

Conny Groenewegen: When I walk through this neighborhood and I see the designers’ windows and then I see the naked girls, somehow it’s complementary to each other. So you can fit the dresses on the girls, you know — imaginary.

Conny is in the Red Light District thanks to a new city-sponsored program called Red Light Fashion. She pays less than $250 a month for her window, a tenth of what the rent would otherwise be. Sixteen young designers have moved into former prostitution windows. Interior decorators and artists will soon join them.

Edwin Oppedijk works for the city of Amsterdam. He says the Red Light District was getting too sleazy.

Edwin Oppedijk: There were too many coffee shops, too many brothels, too much of the same thing.

Last year, the city helped broker a deal to buy property all over the area. A notorious landlord who was allegedly involved with human trafficking walked off with 25 million euros so long as he promised to leave for good. Other landlords have been getting similar offers. As a result, almost 20 percent of the prostitution windows in the area have been taken out of commission.

Oppedijk says Amsterdam isn’t trying to outlaw prostitution, but the district’s future lies in going upscale.

Oppedijk: It will be nice restaurants, fashion stores, erotic entertainment with coffee shops.

But the process, which involves paying millions to landlords to entice them to leave, strikes many of the neighborhood’s prostitutes as unfair. Yokita Homa is with the non-profit Prostitution Information Center.

Yokita Homa: Because they get millions of euros for that but the people who work behind the windows are the ones who have to live with the consequences.

She says that gentrification is increasing the competition for windows and that rents will rise for the neighborhood’s prostitutes. It’s a phenomenon almost as old as the world’s oldest profession.

In Amsterdam’s Red Light District, I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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