From transitional housing for the homeless to fancypants Hamptons beach huts, it would seem that the world’s surplus of rectangular corrugated steel boxes can be converted into anything these days, once they've been pardoned from service on the high seas.

And by anything I should mention that retired shipping containers are now being upcycled into shelters used to house Amsterdam’s most unruly denizens — unrepentant neighbors from hell who repeatedly refuse to play nice and by the rules — in housing punishment camps located on the outskirts of the city.

“Repeat offenders should be forcibly removed from their neighborhood and sent to a village for scum. Put all the trash together,” suggested remarkably coifed populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders in a 2011 proposal calling for dedicated “scum villages.” While Amsterdam officials deny that their vision for shipping container housing camps are exclusively reserved for “scum," the name — suggested by Wilders for a different scheme — has stuck.

“The container homes will be used more often, and in different parts of the city. This is how we want to deal with the most extreme cases of problem families," Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan recently explained to the city’s Parool newspaper.

If you think this all sounds like the Dutch version of Mortville, you’re not that far off. This controversial housing arrangement established to curb anti-social — but non-criminal — behavior amongst “persistent troublemakers” is slightly reminiscent of the village for social deviants, criminals, and unhinged suburban housewives so colorfully imagined in John Waters’ 1977 film “Desperate Living” in that it segregates law-abiding citizens from the true unsavories.

While the fictional Mortville was a lawless shantytown populated by nudist garbage men and on-the-lam murderesses and ruled by a despotic queen, Amsterdam’s housing camps for chronically ill-behaved families are patrolled by police officers; visits from social workers are frequent. Services and amenities are minimal (but not totally inaccessible) and those living in the camps remain socially isolated with no, or very few, neighbors. However stark, this isn't prison — more like a housing "time out" — and those living in housing punishment camps are free to come and go as they please. The retrofitted shipping containers, popular across the Netherlands for all sorts of housing solutions including college dorms, are not oppressive cells. (The picture above depicts a container apartment complex in Amsterdam, not a housing punishment camp).

If those families sent to the the city’s "scum villages" prove that they can rejoin society and not torment the unfortunate souls who live around them, they will be released from what the Atlantic Cities’s Feargus O’ Sullivan dubs “social quarantine” after six months and allowed to return to their homes.

“The aim is not to reward people who behave badly with a new five-room home with a south-facing garden. This is supposed to be a deterrent,” a city spokesperson explained late last year. A deterrent, yes, but also an alternative to the homelessness faced by many disruptive tenants after being evicted from social housing. And, of course, the scheme also provides beleaguered neighbors with a much-needed break, an extended sigh of relief.

Who's the problem?

Speaking to the BBC last year, Amsterdam council member Tahira Limon described the housing plan as an anti-bullying tactic in which the bullies and not the bullied — those subject to gay-bashing, intimidation, and various forms of harassment — would be forced to retreat: "Our plan is to combat bullying. Usually people are scared to report problems for fear of intimidation. It's an upside-down world and we want to change it so the people who cause the problems are moved."

While Amsterdam’s housing punishment camps were a highly polarizing concept, they’ve proven to be even more contentious in practice as the city’s first “nuisance family” was recently evicted and relocated to shipping container units 48a and 48b on Zeeburger Island. Although it’s unclear exactly what the eight-member Dimitrov clan, a family of Roma descent, did to warrant the dubious distinction of being the first family in Amsterdam to be banished to a so-called scum village, van der Laan explains that the move was justified without sharing any of the real juicy details: “The family has been causing problems for years and has a history of vandalism, noise nuisance and threatening behavior.”

Members of the Dimitrov clan have compared the container home arrangement to a concentration camp and accused officials of “pure racism.”

For anyone who has ever dealt with a particularly nasty neighbor, the scheme in Amsterdam may seem like a fantasy come true, although in those fantasies the problematic neighbors rarely return and/or are run over by a garbage truck or mauled by a bear.

But will it work? Will a period of social ostracism breed kindler, gentler neighbors or will it just further encourage anti-social behavior? Will the Dimitrovs return to their previous neighborhood brandishing homemade apple pies and apology notes? Or will they come back as angry as hell?

Would you support a similar plan in your town?

Via [The Atlantic Cities], [The Telegraph]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

In Amsterdam, nasty neighbors banished to shipping container 'scum villages'
Under a new plan, Amsterdam residents prone to bad behavior can be sent off for a six-month stint at an isolated 'scum village.'