Bye-bye locals: European city centers sound alarm
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 76year-old, his face framed by thick glasses and a bushy moustache. “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.
‘Emptying out’ -
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. At the same time, according to real-estate website Idealista, rental prices in Ciutat Vella, where the Gothic Quarter is located, have gone from 14.4 to 19 euros per square meter in just two years.
Rising rental prices, noise and crowds jostling for space in the streets and the disappearance of traditional, everyday stores have all contributed to forcing people out for economic reasons... or due to sheer frustration. 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 centre emptying out.” For sociologist Daniel Sorando, co-author of “First We Take Manhattan,” an essay that analyses the phenomenon in various cities, the trend is towards “urban centers conceived as machines to make money while the working classes are displaced outside.”
Paris, Amsterdam, London
The problem also affects cities further afield. In Paris, concerned residents of the 4th district, where Notre-Dame 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,” Ian Brossat, in charge of housing for Paris’ city hall said.
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, told AFP. 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. In Berlin, people are only allowed to rent out one room in their home since last year, and the whole flat or house if it is a secondary or occasional use pied-a-terre. — AFP
BARCELONA: Tourists pull their suitcases as they pass by a butcher shop of El Gotic neighborhood, in Barcelona.— AFP