Europe’s city cen­ters sound alarm as lo­cals are forced out

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

BARCELONA, Spain — Mem­o­ries of the past come flood­ing back as Manuel Mourelo strolls through Barcelona’s pic­turesque Gothic Quar­ter: chil­dren play­ing, fun with the neigh­bors, tra­di­tional bars ... But now, “all of that has dis­ap­peared.”

Hordes of tourists fill the nar­row, wind­ing al­leys on guided tours, bike and Seg­way rides, while res­i­dents have de­serted build­ings full of his­tory to make way for quaint ho­tels and tourist rentals — an is­sue that af­fects pop­u­lar spots Europe-wide.

Last year, Mourelo him­self joined the ex­o­dus out of a dis­trict he had lived in since 1962 when he came to the Span­ish sea­side city from Gali­cia in the north­west.

The flat he had been rent­ing for 25 years was sold to an in­vestor and he was evicted. Hav­ing paid 500 eu­ros ($560) a month in rent, he was un­able to find any­thing else af­ford­able in the area.

“They were ask­ing for 1,000, 1,200, 1,500 eu­ros,” says the 76-year-old, his face framed by thick glasses and a bushy mus­tache.

“This was my vil­lage. I had it all here, my friends, my shops, I got mar­ried here, my chil­dren were born here, and I thought I would die here.

“I feel dis­placed,” he adds, his eyes welling up.

Ac­cord­ing to the city hall, the fixed pop­u­la­tion in the Gothic dis­trict so loved by tourists has dropped from 27,470 res­i­dents in 2006 to just 15,624 at the end of 2015.

Now, 63 per­cent are “float­ing” res­i­dents — tourists or peo­ple in short-term lets.

The ar­rival of Airbnb and other such home-rent­ing plat­forms has only ag­gra­vated the prob­lem, lo­cals say.

“We’re not talk­ing about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, about sub­sti­tut­ing the orig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion by an­other more wealthy one,” says Gala Pin, a coun­cilor in Ci­u­tat Vella.

“We’re talk­ing about the his­toric cen­ter emp­ty­ing out.”

The prob­lem also af­fects cities fur­ther afield.

In Paris, res­i­dents of the 4 th dis­trict, where NotreDame Cathe­dral is lo­cated, or­ga­nized a sym­po­sium on the “in­vis­i­ble de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion” of city cen­ters in March.

The city hall in the French cap­i­tal said ear­lier this year that it had lost 20,000 housing units in five years, partly to tourist rentals.

This con­trib­utes to a “rise in prices” and a “drop in the pop­u­la­tion,” said Ian Brossat, who is in charge of housing for Paris’ city hall.

In Am­s­ter­dam, mean­while, the ING bank found that own­ers could earn 350 eu­ros more per month with sea­sonal rentals, push­ing the prices up, Senne Janssen, au­thor of the study, said.

To try and rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion, Paris, Lon­don and Am­s­ter­dam want to reg­u­late the du­ra­tion of rentals and regis­ter all flats and houses be­ing used for short-term lets in or­der to bet­ter con­trol them.

Back in Barcelona, for those who hold on tight de­spite the prices life is far from peace­ful, with crowds, noise and lack of con­ve­nience stores.

“If the prices don’t throw you out, daily pres­sure does,” says Marti Cuso, a 27-year-old lo­cal ac­tivist in Barcelona.

Raised in the dis­trict, he is the only one among his friends to still live there.

We’re not talk­ing about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion ... We’re talk­ing about the his­toric cen­ter emp­ty­ing out.” Gala Pin, a coun­cilor in the Ci­u­tat Vella dis­trict of Barcelona

PAU BARRENA / AFP

Manuel Mourelo chats to a friend in a street in the Gothic Quar­ter of Barcelona, where he lived for more than 50 years. He has since had to leave the area be­cause tourism has made it un­af­ford­able, a prob­lem be­ing repli­cated in other large Euro­pean cities.

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