Den Haag Debrief 5: An international, multicultural city

By Paula Echeverría Suárez

The Hague (Den Haag in Dutch) is the third largest city of the Netherlands. It is located along the North Sea about 40 minutes south of Amsterdam. It is the seat of the Dutch government and the majority of foreign embassies and international organizations in the country. Out of a population of 520,000 (as of April 1, 2016), fifty percent have Dutch ancestry while the other half have one or two “foreign born” parents. The Hague is an international city with many faces and different cultures.

The Hague’s reputation as an international city began in the middle of the 19th century when it became the Royal Residence of the House Oranje-Nassau. As a government town and seat of the monarchy, the city attracted many embassies and welcomed visitors from near and far, overcrowding the town and forcing development to continue outside the original city center. By the 20th century, The Hague was internationally known as a city of peace and justice, helding the First Peace Conference in the world.

The Hague is built on sand dunes in the northwest and peat in its southeast (the border roughly runs parallel to Laan van Meerdervoort). Wealthier neighbourhoods like Statenkwartier, Belgisch Park, Marlot, Benoordenhout and Archipelbuurt are generally located “in the sand” closer to the sea, and those Hagenaars speak bekakt Haags (“posh”). In the poorer neighborhoods like Transvaal, Moerwijk, and Schilderswijk, the Hagenezen speak plat Haags (“vulgar”). In the 1970s and 1980s, mostly white middle-class families moved to neighbouring towns like Voorburg, Leidschendam, Rijswijk and, most of all, Zoetermeer. This led to the traditional pattern of an impoverished inner city and more prosperous suburbs.

That pattern has partially reversed, as The Hague today has a mix of 100 ethnicities, languages and cultures living side by side. Most inhabitants at least speak two languages fluently (15% of the population speaks Turkish or Arabic as a native language). There are many yearly events celebrating the different heritages of The Hague’s inhabitants. For instance, the “Welcome to The Hague” programme for expats; the Tong Tong Fair, a celebration of the Indonesian-Dutch heritage, and The Embassy Festival for the diplomats that live in the city.

For the City Water Project, the idea of starting our initiative in a city so culturally diverse seemed interesting and exciting. However, we did not realize that our connections should not only focus on The Hague as a single community, but The Hague as a variety of small communities, each with their own language and culture. You can read more about our efforts to connection to them here.



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