When Amsterdam installed its famed “I Amsterdam” sculpture outside the Rijksmuseum in 2004, there was no such thing as Instagram. Nearly 15 years later, we live in a different world, and the red and white sculpture has transformed from a public art piece to a frustrating symbol of the city’s thriving tourism economy.
This week, following a petition from Amsterdam city councillor Femke Roosma that claimed the sculpture was attracting mass tourism and promoting the wrong vision for the city, the letters were craned onto a truck and driven far away from the city center. The message of the dramatic removal is clear: Amsterdam does not want to be an Instagram city.
In a statement, Roosma said, “The message of ‘I amsterdam’ is that we are all individuals in the city. We want to show something different: diversity, tolerance, solidarity. This slogan reduces the city to a background in a marketing story.”
In 2018, it’s nearly impossible for cities to avoid tourists who flock to their streets on the recommendation of a social media geotag, but Amsterdam is certainly trying with proposed restrictions on Airbnb, cracking down on beer bikes, and efforts to clear out big public squares like the one where I AMSTERDAM once stood.
It’s hard to blame the residents. Many complain that their city no longer feels like their city at all, which has apparently in the last five years has contributed to 40 percent of couples leaving the city after their first child. For many magnet cities, tourism is the ultimate catch-22: It can help a city thrive but also makes it unbearable.
For those who are upset about the sculpture loosing its prime location, no need to worry. The letters are soon undergoing a restoration and will soon be traveling around the city as a roving installation at festivals and events.