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A nice piece of work

They put their heart and soul into the neighbourhood. Mrs and Mrs van Vuuren originally come from south of the river, but have lived in the centre for years.

voet hoogstraat bariere

For years the railway viaduct formed a barrier between the centre and the eastern section of the city centre.

Photo J. Roovers, archive Voet C0562

They live high above the city, on the eighth floor of a housing complex in the Hoogkwartier neighbourhood. The view is stunning. To the left is the Industry Building on Goudsesingel, where handymen come and go, and to the right Hoogstraat, flanked by low-rise blocks of flats. It’s a landscape of flat roofs. A plump black rabbit crews its way across the field of Achterklooster. It’s a thorn in the side of Cees van Vuuren, because the creatures eat everything from the planters in front of the building, while residents do all they can to care for the plants.

Collecting number plates in Zuid

The couple originally comes from Zuid: the ‘farmers’ side’. Cees explains that farmers from outlying districts – among them Rijsoord, Heinenoord and Barendrecht – moved to the city for jobs. These workers lived in Zuid, just like Cees’s family, who found work on the railways. Zuid was a fine place to grow up. It was quiet, but there was still plenty for children to do. Cars were still a rarity, so everybody played on the street. “If a car drove by, you wrote down the number plate, so rare was it. You collected those numbers.”


Small but special

After their wedding, Cees and Rien were given a small house in Zuid from the housing association that Rien’s parents had joined. Though small, “it had everything”: a small garden, a tiny kitchen, and a dining area in what had been an alcove. When they wanted to go to bed, they pushed everything to one side to make space for the fold-away bed. Not big, but very cosy. As soon as a baby came along, however, it was time to look elsewhere. That was easier said than done, but luckily Cees was well connected. Through his job at a factory that made suturing materials he managed to find another house.

Fine mess

Their next home was in the middle of town, on Meent. The building was constructed in about 1952 on top of ‘the war rubble’. From the apartment they looked out over the old Binnenrotte viaduct, known as the elevated railway. The viaduct was no more than 10 metres from the bedroom window. Even so, it didn’t bother Cees or Rien, because the sound was so constant. You simply got used to it. The centre changed rapidly around them. “The changing city centre, it’s all for the better. It’s vibrant now.” When they moved in they could see a long distance. Patches of land were still vacant. Then along came the Pencil building, the library, Blaak station and of course the tunnel that replaced the elevated railway. The city was a construction site. That was not a nuisance but, instead, a wonderful thing to experience. “It was a very fine piece of work!”

The couple have been living in the centre now for some 46 years, to their great satisfaction. From Meent they moved to their current home. “We wanted to live high,” Cees explains. Initially he didn’t want to move at all, but this building has a lift. They’ve built up a big network in the big building. Cees plays a very active role in the tenants’ association, and both he and Rien often visit the community centre downstairs in their building, where they join coffee mornings and other activities. They feel very attached to the building and to the people. Both of them want to do all they can to help other. Rien does some volunteer care work: “It’s about looking after one another.”

“Being able to help people makes me happy. Our legs are still healthy.” For a few months a year they escape. “In the summer we’re often away.” That’s when they head to their allotment garden in Blijdorp, with its self-built shed. That garden needs an awful lot of tending. Last year there were at least 40 pots with flowers. The gardens are in great demand, especially among young people. They live in apartments but also want to enjoy the greenery. Cees and Rien love to spend a few months in their urban oasis. After all they do for the neighbourhood, they badly need the rest.

The story of
Meneer en mevrouw van Vuuren