Amsterdam Today

Amsterdam is built on a latticework of concentric canals like an aquatic rainbow, and although the city may evoke many images even before you arrive—the tulips, the gabled roofs of its mansions, the Rembrandts hypnotizing viewers in the Rijksmuseum, the splendor of its 17th-century Golden Age—time does not stand still in this city. Indeed, there’s an undercurrent of significant change happening here that might not be immediately apparent. Talk to the savvy locals and you'll hear plenty about what's going on in Amsterdam today. These are some of the topics on their minds.

There's less red

Starting in 2007, when Amsterdam unveiled a plan to clean up its Red Light District, surveillance cameras began rolling 24/7, whole bordellos were bought out, and nearly two hundred prostitute windows went dark. In late 2015, the city announced that, due to protests from both sex workers and local residents, it would stop closing windows, but many spaces have already been turned over to studio-seeking artists and designers. Project 1012, named for the area’s postal code, was initiated to counter rising rates of human trafficking and derivative forms of illegal ickiness. In so doing, the city’s historic center was meant to return to "the people"—though whether the creatives in residence fairly represent them is up for debate. Still, for inhabitants and visitors alike, the de-sleazing efforts have made room for a different set of opportunities, including shopping and wine tasting.

The food has gotten better

Up until a few years ago, besides the pretheater brasserie deal or a few Indonesian and Surinamese establishments, if you were looking for a good meal, your best bet was a traditional "brown café" (similar to a pub; named for the nicotine-stained walls from a time when you could still smoke everywhere). But there the meal would be formulaic: meat or fish, salad, and fries. For such a pleasure-permissive city, how could a side of mayonnaise be the only opportunity for Burgundian indulgence? Clearly, others asked this, too. Today, the quality of the food, the variety of venues, and even the historically lax customer service get an "A" for effort. There are dedicated burger, BBQ, and Vietnamese eateries dotting the city's landscape, and a twice-yearly restaurant week to entice diners. National grocer Albert Heijn now has an eco-friendly AH Biologisch (organic) line, while outposts of the healthy market Marqt give the Dutch stalwart a run for its money. Not unrelatedly, gym culture is also growing here.

Property is booming

Besides the weather, Amsterdammers' current favorite topic is real estate. And with good reason: Amsterdam housing prices rose 23% in 2016. This has caused a shortage of inventory in the city—so visitors who fall in love with that cozy canalside home may need to take a rain check.

It's easier to get around

Completion of the metro’s long-delayed Noord-Zuidlijn (North-South) addition—which was more than €1 billion over budget—finally has been scheduled for summer 2018. When ready, you can make the 10-km (6-mile) jump between the hip borough of Noord and the Zuidas business hub in south Amsterdam—poof!—in 16 minutes. Centraal Station has also undergone a much-needed revamp, with more restaurants and shops added to the back section overlooking the IJ River. The station's entrance will also be spruced up by 2023, with widened canals and underground parking for 17,500 bikes.

You can still smoke pot

T-shirt slogans like "Good girls go to heaven, bad girls to Amsterdam" are a testament to the fact that the city's decadent reputation has been a self-perpetuated industry fueled by tourism, but in 2012 legislation was drafted to prohibit blowen (smoking pot) in coffeeshops if you’re not a native Hollander. It was then scrapped by city officials—meaning you can still light up in Amsterdam and the major towns of the Randstad, including Rotterdam, The Hague, and Haarlem. The crackdown still continues, though, with the latest a government-backed project to close coffeeshops within 250 meters (820 feet) of a school. Still, Amsterdam's pot culture remains a huge draw, and after not being held in 2015 or 2016, the Cannabis Cup will return to the city in 2017. Note that edibles are still strictly a "space cake" affair here—no gummy bears or candy on offer.

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