To create the best possible place, with an ideal mix of functions, concepts and (local) businesses, Amsterdamse Poort will be all about experimentation in the next few years. Placetesting is an integral part of the development strategy, making it an international frontrunner project for property owner CBRE IM.

The challenge

Amsterdamse Poort is the main shopping centre in neighbourhood Amsterdam Southeast. This neighbourhood with 90.000 inhabitants is known for its cultural diversity. Amsterdam Southeast was initially designed and developed as a modernist utopian project in the 1960s, meant to address the city’s housing shortage. However, the original vision was not realized, and the area faced major urban issues, including social problems, crime, and a sense of isolation. When the shopping centre opened in 1987, it was an iconic destination, where you could find and sample products from all over the world. Unfortunately, in recent years, many of these unique shops have given way to large fashion chains, slowly eroding the original soul of the place and fading residents’ ‘passion for the Poort’.

Currently one of the Netherlands’ most significant urban development projects is underway in Amsterdam Southeast, and at its core lies Amsterdamse Poort. Property owner CBRE IM has the ambition to make Amsterdamse Poort the beating heart of Southeast once again. Working with a local team, and with the help of many people from Southeast we are deploying placetesting as a crucial part of the development strategy; preserving the area’s distinct identity while rekindling opportunities for local entrepreneurs and local cultural and creative organizations. We use placetesting as a tool to offer a springboard to young entrepreneurs and creatives, encouraging talent development and literally offering space to the local community. 

‘No growth without change’
To kick-off the redevelopment, we collaborated with local artist Munir de Vries, born and raised in Southeast. Via cost-free graffiti workshops, we involved children, young people and adults in the future transformation. They shared their dreams for the Amsterdamse Poort. Our most important learning from this project was that the current residents understand perfectly well that change is needed. Because: ‘No growth without change’. But they do, however, express concerns about whether there will still be space for them after this change.
This insight is not only at the core of the mural, it has also become our ‘leitmotif’ in the entire development. Yes, the Amsterdamse Poort is going to change, but we will do so in collaboration with the people who live, work and do business there now as well as with all the people who will join us in the coming years. We offer talent, of all ages, a stage and adopt a flexible and learning attitude ourselves. Because for us too, as owner and developer, change means growth. That is why we, as a team, involve residents, entrepreneurs, young and old, in everything we do. We organise focus groups and have set up a ‘Club of 100’ in which 100 residents think along with us and give us feedback on our plans.

Our approach
With Placetesting we provide temporary space for entrepreneurs, residents, social and cultural organisations, and even the local government, to test innovative concepts, initiatives, and functions. A clear vision of the future serves as a compass, while core values act as a filter. Only initiatives, ideas and concepts that are in line with the unique identity of Southeast and contribute to the future of Amsterdamse Poort are selected for testing.

Our ambition is clearly formulated: ‘In 2030, the Amsterdamse Poort is the beloved heart of Amsterdam Southeast. A heart where people meet, shop, eat, work, discover culture and live. A place where history is respected, what is relevant now is understood and space is given to the future. A heart full of character.’ The four core values ‘Character’, ‘Space’, ‘Connect’ and ‘Life’ reflect the unique character of the area and are reflected in the physical space, in the programme, activities and communication.
An essential premise of place testing is that experimentation is always done with the intention of all parties involved of turning something temporary into something permanent in case of success. In other words, what works, stays. This approach is similar to prototyping from the successful lean startup method, which is widely used in the startup world.

Culture as a new anchor
One of the ambitions is to add local art & culture as a new anchor. To determine which local cultural functions, organisations and entrepreneurs are best suited to the Poort, we have already been providing temporary accommodation to emerging cultural players from Southeast since 2019. That year, for instance, the museum for art, fashion, design, craftsmanship and development, OSCAM, found accommodation in a vacant retail unit. Hip hop academy The Foundation opened its doors in Amsterdamse Poort in 2021. For both parties, this was a very conscious choice. De Poort is a central and important place for Southeast. Conversely, these two cultural organisations bring new visitor groups to the Amsterdamse Poort and contribute positively to its offer and image. Due to the success of these two placetests, we are currently exploring the possibility of offering Oscam and The Foundation a permanent place in a new building that we will design together with them. Library OBA Next opened a pop-up unit in the Poort in September 2023 to test its own future functions. More cultural placetests will be carried out in the near future, to further broaden and enrich the cultural programme.

Responding to Retail trends
There is also plenty of experimentation at the retail level. Good ideas from local entrepreneurs can immediately land in a specially equipped unit. Local fashion brand Patta caused long queues at the door when it opened in 2019. In corona time, the unit first became a shop with mouthpieces by local designers. Then the Bijlmerbox, a box full of local delicacies, chose it as a dispensing point. Since then, due to resounding success, this Bijlmerbox has become a recurring phenomenon, with ever-changing composition. This pop-up unit is now being developed into a place where brands and entrepreneurs can use the space for a short period to test new products or concepts. This will keep the offer in the Gate dynamic and surprising.

Springboard for local talent
In one of the side streets of the Gateway, Angelo Bromet and Charity Reingoud launched their Streets of Prospects in three empty retail units in the spring of 2021, in the middle of corona time. The three concepts include a design studio with concept store, event space Mr Wallace and a creative agency. They tested viability over six months. Young designers from Southeast saw their own designs hanging in a shop in a prime location for the first time, and soon the place grew into a meeting place for media interviews and product launches.
Mr. Wallace proved such a success that this concept continued to grow in a larger location. The creative agency, working in partnership with several major Amsterdam advertising agencies, quickly produced exceptional projects and local talent that could grow within one of them. Given the success of these three concepts, we also tested the outdoor space. With colourful picnic benches, a table football table and decorations, a meeting place was created, not only for young people but also for older visitors to the Poort, who soon embraced it as a new place to sit and meet.

Not every placetest is a success. For instance, the podcast studio and event space Local Wave was very successful in terms of reach and visibility, but the initiators failed to develop a viable business and revenue model. On their own initiative, their space was taken over by fashion brand Jekkah, which had previously been successful in the pop-up space.

In short, to establish the ideal mix of functions, concepts and entrepreneurs for the future, we deliberately use place testing. But it doesn’t stop here! We are also looking beyond the boundaries of our own property. Placetests in the public space will soon follow, focusing, among other things, on play opportunities for children. A group that currently has little to draw on in the Poort. And by also giving the outdoor space a quality boost, we will make the Amsterdamse Poort a place where you like to come and come back often.

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