Ravelijn Estate, Maastricht

    by Jean Penders

    In the 1970s, a friend introduced me to a neighbourhood that had been built some twenty years earlier, in a place called Maastricht, south of the Netherlands.

    Nothing unusual in that, but it was a housing scheme specifically set up to try and help re-educate people deemed ‘anti-social’. It was based on a philosophy developed in the early 1950s and there were other places around the country, like Utrecht, The Hague and Amsterdam, where something similar had been attempted.

    In Maastricht, 104 families were selected and moved to this new development on the edge of town, having been re-housed from the old deprived port area that was destined for some serious sanitisation and gentrification.

    The new estate was designed in a shoe shape around a square, with a community center overlooking the estate. The center also housed the offices of the social workers overseeing the project. The whole concept was referred to as the ‘Living School’.

    There were small upstairs-downstairs apartments as well as larger family houses each with their own little garden. The idea was that if you could prove you’d done well – found a job, got married, beat alcoholism, gave up prostitution, and generally got to grips with whatever other deprivations life had thrown your way – then you could apply for one of the ‘proper’ houses with a garden.

    Eventually, if you passed all the hurdles and proved you were a ‘socially responsible’ person, you could apply for a place away from the estate and would be reintegrated into the ‘real’ world.

    The scheme didn’t work out and by the 1970s the area was seriously dilapidated due to lack of maintenance and investment. It had become an isolated ghetto for socially vulnerable people on the outskirts of town.

    When applying for jobs, the residents found that the reputation of the place would go against them. Private landlords elsewhere would not have them as tenants, and the special area became a ghetto of self-fulfilling prophesy.

    By the early 1980s, it was acknowledged that the experiment, despite all good intentions, had been a failure. The residents were rehoused and integrated into social housing schemes all over town. Some were happy to move; others wanted to stay.

    The development itself was never demolished and is currently popular as a living quarter for artists and students.

    These photographs are a record of some of the Ravelijn residents and their homes in the 1970s.

    Submitted to the VINTAGE ISSUE, Summer 2014