World Mayor 2020

World Mayor vote 20/21
Ahmed Aboutaleb
Mayor of Rotterdam, Netherlands
answers your questions

World Mayor invited participants in the 2021 Project to put questions to Ahmed Aboutaleb. From the questions received, a representative selection was forwarded to the Mayor. He replies with candour, thoughtfulness and in detail.

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Question by Carolien v. B., Rotterdam:
What made you enter politics and decide to become Mayor of Rotterdam?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
A confluence of circumstances and a drive to help those people who need it. Over the years, I’ve found out that citizens care about who is at the controls. I'm not someone who has planned out his entire career, and acted accordingly. I don't have a crystal ball. I’m also a religious person, and I believe that life’s twists and turns are not in the hands of mankind.

Question by Ruud R., Bert H., and Michael van B., Rotterdam:
What are your priorities for Rotterdam? Have they changed over the years?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
As mayor, I’m mainly responsible for public order and safety. There is also a number of matters that I’m involved in, due to my position of authority, such as tackling subversive drug crime in the port, or homelessness in my city. At the turn of the year, I started my third term as mayor. Safety and security has improved, but in the coming period I want to focus on three themes: 1) the human dimension, 2) protective government and 3) peace in the city.

Not everybody in my city can look after themselves, either because they don’t speak Dutch well enough, or they’re not at home with the way our organisation uses digitisation. These people need our help and charity. A city with almost 175 different nationalities requires an inclusive approach, which is why meeting is another central theme in the coming years, so we can live together in peace. The real priority is to improve the level of education in the city.


Question by Sam P., Rotterdam:
How will you solve the issue in the so-called Tweebosbuurt area of Rotterdam, where developers have started to demolish hundreds of low-rent buildings? The original tenants are forced to pay hundreds of euros more if they want to stay in the neighbourhood.

Question by Herman V., Rotterdam”
Why is nothing being done to prevent long-standing tenants from losing their homes when their homes are being replaced with expensive apartment buildings?

Question by Mieke H., Rotterdam:
What are you going to do about the crisis in the rental home market next year? We've come through the Covid pandemic in a good way, but the housing crisis is worse and affects many of your fellow citizens.

Question by Petra S., Rotterdam:
What are your plans with respect to affordable housing for the elderly in Rotterdam? The background for my question: there is a big shortage of ‘social housing’ in Rotterdam, particularly housing suitable for elderly people. The situation worries me, since I am elderly myself. Elderly people will not be able to live independently due to a lack of suitable and affordable housing.

Question by Jan-Willem B., Rotterdam:
Housing is a big issue. Investors (individual and professionals) are buying houses and renting them out. It is unfair that people who rent a house are spending more than if they bought a house, particularly since they cannot get a mortgage. What is your opinion about this? Are you willing to deal with this unfair situation, which is most acute among the young.

Question by By Rita T., Rotterdam:
In Rotterdam there is an acute shortage of affordable homes.  Is there a plan how to solve this problem? Most new buildings are not aimed at low-income young people or young families.

Question by Paulien H., Rotterdam:
What do you think can you do about the shortage of social housing in Rotterdam? I myself now go to Ridderkerk because there is no decent social housing in Rotterdam.

Question by Ingrid de W.-V., Rotterdam:
My children, aged 23 and 27, still live at home but would like to live independently. Because of the long waiting lists for rental housing and absurdly high room prices, it seems that they will have to continue living at home for years to come. Buying a house is not possible for them. What can and will you do to offer these young Rotterdammers a prospect of housing?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies to the above questions on housing:
The common view in the Netherlands is that the safest neighbourhoods are those with a mixed, stable composition. In other words, people with varying incomes and different ages. The skin colour and origin of people is unimportant. This preserves the local middle class, and ensures the best quality of life. In many of the older urban neighbourhoods in Rotterdam, however, there’s a historical concentration of smaller, cheap homes, sometimes in need of refurbishment. Such areas are too uniform, which doesn’t help attract or retain a diversity of residents. People living in these neighbourhoods who do better financially tend to move to another neighbourhood or area.

The previous and current City Council developed plans to combat this tendency: demolition and new construction, joining smaller homes to create larger ones, or building on empty spaces. The housing created in this way includes a variety of cheaper and more expensive homes, intended for diverse residents. The City Council approved these plans, so it was a democratic decision. The judge also ruled in favour of the City.

Residents in neighbourhoods subject to demolition and new construction are obviously confronted with the necessity to relocate. The housing association provides a different home that reflects what they can afford, possibly with the help of housing allowance. These residents are entitled to a relocation allowance to cover the costs.Some can also take advantage of the new and improved housing to return to their old quarter.

Question by Tessa B., Rotterdam:
What can you do to restore the Putselaan and the Beyerlandselaan / Groene Hilledijk to its former glory? I grew up there but now, as a woman, I am afraid to walk there on my own.

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
Beijerlandselaan and Groene Hilledijk are now becoming more and more attractive. Beautiful stained glass is emerging from behind boarded-up shop fronts. Safety, threatened by things like subversive crime, is being tackled in the Alliance Hand-in-Hand programme, a partnership between the City, local businesses, the South Rotterdam National Programme (NPRZ), housing association Woonstad Rotterdam, Feyenoord City, the police force, the public prosecution service, residents, and various market operators. Efforts are being made to reduce crime. Until now, this approach has cost 17 million euros. We will continue in the same way: fewer shops, less poverty, more families.

Question by Dico K., Rotterdam:
Rotterdam is divided in two by the river. Unfortunately, social progress is lagging behind on the south bank. What do you think you can do about this in the coming years?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
South Rotterdam is catching up with the rest of the city fast. The South Rotterdam National Programme (NPRZ), of which I am chairman, is working hard on promoting this by concentrating on employment, education and housing. The government made an extra 40 million euros available for South Rotterdam this week. In addition to all the other developments in the field of housing, there will be a third river crossing, and development in the Hart van Zuid and Feyenoord City areas.

A major transformation of this nature is a long-term undertaking, and could take a generation. Local development in areas such as Katendrecht or Witte de Withstraat also took twenty to thirty years. The NPRZ has already been operating for ten years, and will continue until 2033. The other developments are at different stages. Change takes time, but plenty of work is being put into making it happen, and successes are visible. A new theatre has already been built, along with a 50-m swimming pool, an arts building, and lots of sports fields. A school exclusively for Gymnasium courses is doing well. The City Council has approved the construction of Feyenoord City: 3,700 homes, including social housing, and a football stadium for 63,000 spectators. The perspective is impressive.


Question by Dico K., Rotterdam:
One of the most pressing global problems is to adapt our behaviour to reduce energy consumption and thus limit our impact on the climate. What do you intend to initiate in the coming years to support the city, the boroughs and the citizens in achieving this goal?

Question by Gerhard G., Germany:
How can Rotterdam claim to make sustainability one of its priorities when its prosperity depends on the global container traffic, which produces as much CO2 as aviation or, if it were a country, as much as Germany?

Question by Elly van D., France, and Erna B., Rotterdam:
Rotterdam is one of the most important trading centres of Europe but it is also a city where hundreds of thousands of people demand a cleaner environment. How do you satisfy demands for strong economic growth with the need to reduce pollution, particularly from road traffic?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies to the above questions on the environment:
The port is making great advances in its drive to make its activities more sustainable, one example being the transition to hydrogen. Maasvlakte II also has one of the world's largest wind turbines, which generates 10 MW of electricity. The current council is also looking closely at sustainable energy in the city itself. One of the reasons the regional local authorities (jointly the Rotterdam-The Hague Metropolitan Area) drew up a growth agenda was to facilitate major steps forward in terms of sustainability. Together with the mayor of The Hague, regional local authorities and various large companies, we’re lobbying the national government hard in this respect. Basically, the growth agenda concerns investments in mobility, housing development and sustainable energy. The Netherlands could achieve a large part of its Paris climate targets simply by making the port more sustainable, In other words, it’s vital that the new cabinet awaiting formation invests in this regional growth agenda.

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
Question 16:
Other major cities in Western Europe move towards car-free city centres. When do you expect the Rotterdam city centre to be entirely car-free?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
It’s impossible to predict whether the centre of Rotterdam will ever be free of cars, as various factors play a role. One of these is the public interest: do all residents want the centre of the city to be free of cars, or just the residents living there? Is there an alternative available, do people have a choice?

The Council is currently focusing on a sustainable combination (bicycle and public transport) of public transport and shared transport to reduce car use and encourage people to choose an alternative. Efforts to make the city more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly are also being reinforced at the moment.

Question by Sam P., Rotterdam:
The idea of green roofs and/or roofs with solar panels does not seem to progress much. What can be done?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
There is no less than 18.5 km2 of flat roofing in Rotterdam. An important start has been made on making this roofing more sustainable with innovative methods. One example is the Dakbos roof garden on the Boijmans van Beuningen Depot. Another is the Dakakker, a 1,000 m2 roof farm in the centre of the city. This isn’t just the largest open-air roof farm in the Netherlands, it’s actually one of the biggest in Europe.

Work remains to be done, however. To drive further progress, the City Council has drawn up a programme for installing solar panels on roofs, making roofs greener, and collecting water. Roofing is suitable for a range of sustainability measures. Last June, a roof catalogue was published following an assignment by the City. It contains 130 options on alternative uses for our roofs. The aim is to inspire others in the city to use roofs for multiple functions. Together with the water boards, the City also set up the Rotterdam Weatherwise initiative. Residents who want to take sustainability measures in, around or on their homes are encouraged to request a grant. We’re working together with parties like housing associations and property developers to make roofs more sustainable. The website has more info on what’s happening. During the annual Rotterdam Rooftop Days in the summer, the public can visit sustainable roofs that are not always accessible.


Question by By Bert H., Marianne M., Annette v. d. B., Adri V., Rotterdam /Netherlands:
Rotterdam is one of Europe’s most multicultural cites and praised for its diversity. Approximately half of all ‘Rotterdammers’, including you, have an immigration background. Please explain how Rotterdam successfully integrated thousands upon thousands of newcomers and what challenges still remain.

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
I sometimes jokingly call myself the Secretary-General of the United Nations of Rotterdam: there are no fewer than 175 different nationalities living in Rotterdam. To live together, it’s important that we get to know each other, that we meet. This helps us to learn to understand each other better, and benefits peace and social cohesion in the city. That's why I’ve defined ‘meeting’ as one of my three priorities for my third term as mayor. In this respect, it’s important that taboos are not avoided, even in the debate around integration. It’s especially important to work on joint solutions in areas of conflict in society. This is something I want to be part of as mayor.

Question by Erna B., Rotterdam:
During the Covid pandemic authorities are trying to vaccinate as many people as possible.  Sadly, there are many people who refuse to be vaccinated.  Often, they seem to be people with a different cultural background and/or people on low income. I would like to know what the City is doing to reach these people.

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
We’ve seen an increase in the willingness to get vaccinated in recent months, although this was not the case in the more vulnerable neighbourhoods. Two GPs in Rotterdam-West and a doctor from the Erasmus Medical Centre expressed their concerns to me about this, and asked for help from the City of Rotterdam and the department of health to better reach these people.

They noticed in particular that the messages about vaccination weren’t getting across to residents well. This was because the group of residents in question were either unable or little able to understand the language, or because they were receiving incorrect information via other channels, including social media channels.
To rectify this, information stands were set up from June in the markets in various neighbourhoods, and vaccinations arranged on the spot for those who wanted them.

Question by Vincent M., Rotterdam:
Do you agree that especially women of first generation immigrants (or those married from abroad to second or third generation immigrants) lag behind in mastering the Dutch language and have little social contacts outside their own circle? Current programmes do not seem to reach them. What more can be done to integrate these women into Rotterdam civic life?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
Learning a new language is difficult for all immigrants, and Dutch is no easy language. Migrants from Eastern Europe who come to work here and expats from North America also have difficulty learning Dutch. This may be less noticeable, because migrants who come to work here stay for a short time, and the Dutch generally speak English well.

Civic integration and learning Dutch is a matter for the government and the City, for which attention is drawn in various ways. Rotterdam does a lot to help with learning the language, but people also have to be motivated. As a migrant myself, I’m aware that language is the key to the “treasures” of the new society.

Question by Susan T., Rotterdam:
Have you ever felt that as an immigrant you had to try harder, work harder than native Dutch people to achieve what you have achieved?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
All migrants here have to work harder to build a life and prove themselves. On the one hand, this is due to the lack of a network, which traditionally isn’t a problem for a Dutch person without a migration background. For example, they have a network through their parents.

On the other hand, not being able to speak Dutch can also play tricks on you. When I came to the Netherlands at the age of fifteen, I worked very hard to learn Dutch as quickly as possible. Three evenings a week, I would criss-cross The Hague on my bike to take Dutch lessons.

Without a network it’s more difficult to succeed, and without learning the language it’s impossible.

Above all, you need people around you who believe in you. This could be a teacher at school, somebody your parents know, or a manager at your first job. These people can give you a push in the right direction. People who believe in you help you fly without realising it. However, as a Muslim, I still regularly have to prove my loyalty to the Netherlands. Some people have a political or other interest in portraying you as disloyal.


Question by Vincent M., Rotterdam:
Do you agree that knife carrying and its use among young people is increasing exponentially. What measures do you think you can take to reduce this and to prevent these young people from carrying knives?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
Only the police are allowed to carry weapons. Research has shown that carrying a weapon with you is more likely to lead to violence, and use of the weapon, despite many young people saying that they only carry a knife for protection.

The City recently started a campaign against knife violence in Rotterdam, in partnership with the police and youth workers. This campaign was developed together with young people.

In addition to taking coercive action (fines, detention), it’s also important to convince young people to make better decisions. Young people matter, they’re the future of the city, that’s what this campaign is trying to get across.

Question by Ingrid v. V., Rotterdam:
What are you going to do about the public drug dealing in Rotterdam-Kralingen?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
We act against drug dealing throughout Rotterdam, but we can’t put a police officer on every street corner 24 hours a day. That’s why it’s important citizens report crimes. The more we know about where abuses are taking place, the better our police force can respond efficiently.

On Maasboulevard and around the Esch, the police regularly drive around in unmarked cars, or use vehicles with French or Belgian registration plates and pretend to be people who want to buy drugs. This has led to regular arrests of drug dealers and the closing of drug dens.


Question by Monique S., Rotterdam:
How do you feel about the increasing number of tourists in Rotterdam and how do you think the city can prevent over-tourism as it was in Amsterdam or Barcelona before the pandemic?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
High-quality tourism helps local growth, but at the same time requires a healthy balance with residents in the city. Rotterdam’s citizens are proud of their city, and enjoy showing it off to outsiders, whether these are domestic or foreign tourists. However, we don't want mass tourism. We want tourists who are interested in culture, architecture and water, for example, not in coffee shops selling cannabis.

Question by Popke B de J., Netherlands:
Rotterdam is a great city, with the slogan “Everything is possible in Rotterdam”, because of the many possibilities and the attitude of the local government under the leadership of Mayor Aboutaleb. But many TV programmes are focused on and recorded in Amsterdam. How are you planning to stronger promote Rotterdam in the Netherlands and neighbouring Europe? This year’s Eurovision was such a great success!

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
The Eurovision Song Contest was certainly a success, partly because so many TV shows moved their studios to Rotterdam and were able to experience on the spot how attractive those locations were and their great potential. You have to understand that such a decision is not up to the mayor, but taken by the broadcasters themselves. I can assure you of one thing: Rotterdam presented itself really well with this year’s song festival.

Question by Eveline van W., Rotterdam:
What relationships do you have with other Dutch and/or European mayors?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
I believe in the power of sharing knowledge and experiences. With this in mind, I maintain good relations with my colleagues at home and abroad, whether in one-on-one contacts or in a network context. Besides intensive contacts with mayors of the other three largest local authorities in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Utrecht and The Hague), bodies such as the National Assembly of Chairs of Local Security (‘Veiligheidsberaad’) and the Association for Mayors offer important opportunities for meetings and exchanges within the Netherlands.

We also maintain strong and active international relations with a range of networks, such as the Eurocities and the C40 network. Moreover, I sustain personal relationships with cities such as Shanghai, Dubai, Jakarta and Paris. In addition, as cities are on the frontline of climate change and tackling this requires international cooperation, I took in January the initiative of hosting the Mayors Forum on Climate Adaptation online, bringing together city leaders from all corners of the world.

Together with a new coalition of partners, the participating mayors and I presented a ‘1000 Cities Adapt Now’, a 10-year global program to accelerate and scale adaptation measures.

Question by Willem D., Netherlands:
You have been Mayor of Rotterdam since 2009. During your years in office what difference, do you think, you have made to your fellow citizens?

Mayor Aboutaleb replies:
I think that's a question only Rotterdam’s citizens can answer. I can't judge the difference between me and my predecessors, that’s something the city itself can do better. And Rotterdam’s citizens, who don’t beat about the bush...