Bye-bye lo­cals: Euro­pean city cen­ters sound alarm

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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

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