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