In The Hague, borrowed bicycles, skateboards, and roller skates knit immigrant communities together.
It’s a sunny day in the Schilderswijk neighborhood in the Dutch city of The Hague. A custodian with long dreadlocks stands in front of his Haagse hopje on the Jacob van Campen square.
It’s one of the 24 small buildings of its kind in the city. They’re located next to playgrounds, and offer children ages 4 to 12 the chance to borrow toys, games, and bikes. When the weather is good, small pools and bouncy castles are sometimes set up outside, and on rainy days the children can do crafts and games indoors.
This building’s custodian, Runaldo Overman, is a 62-year-old Suriname-Dutch man who seems younger than his years. He’s been working at this post for over two decades. That’s when the first Haagse hopjes (named after a typical sweet from The Hague) were erected in the city, following the example of Rotterdam. At first, these buildings were converted shipping containers; now, some are new structures built expressly for this purpose. They are open every afternoon on weekdays, are sponsored by the municipality and charitable funds, and are managed by several welfare organizations.
Most hopjes are located in deprived areas, like this one. The Schilderswijk and some of its surrounding districts have higher levels of poverty and crime than most other parts of the country. Unemployment and school dropout rates are high, too. Ten years ago, this led to the Minister for Housing, Communities, and Integration putting the neighborhoods on the list of forty Dutch “problem districts” to be allocated more attention and investment. The hopjes are a welcome addition.
While 22.7 percent of the Schilderswijk…