AbstractIn 2006 the Dutch government selected 40 low income communities to participate in a comprehensive social improvement programme that was aimed at creating significant increases in relevant social indicators within 10 years. Such extensive programmes are not a novel phenomenon in the Netherlands. On the contrary, since World War II many and varied schemes have been applied in disadvantaged city districts.T his paper discusses the history, methods and outcomes of these interventions, and indicates three factors each for both success and defeat. Better to be avoided are: the idea of forcing quick and easy changes upon society through social engineering; being disrespectful of tenants’interests; and passing problems onto neighbouring districts. Success is more assured when interaction between low and middle-income groups is systematically organised; when inhabitants of deprived neighbourhoods are given intensive and respectful assistance to find work or complete their education; and when citizens are encouraged and facilitated to make their own arrangements.