Spectre of Spanish gentrification hitting us
In the past decades, there have been a number of urban plans developed in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean. Some of these projects were commissioned to increase the number of apartments and accommodation for tourists while others focused on the city
Taking as an example the city of Mijas in Spain, the coast is congested and, in my opinion, is too full of houses and apartments, causing serious harm to the environment of the area. From 1996 to 2005, 313,000 dwellings were built in the area of Malaga and its province. Another example is Marbella (located in the Province of Malaga as well), where some dwellings were built on the front beach line in green areas mainly because of lax controls and the mayor’s overzealous approach amidst hints of corruption by the administration. In Alicante (near Valencia area), this factor plus the speculation provoked uncontrolled growth of the city which had produced a chaotic touristic plan.
It is a known fact that a real estate bubble dominated Spain during this period and when it burst, it left several developers bankrupt and put at risk the solvency of a number of top Spanish banks. We must remember that Spain suffered the cruel effect of this property bubble exacerbated by the issue of uncontrolled permits on use of land, spiced by unbridled speculation and massive construction, especially in the coastal areas. It is true that while the going was good, Spain (like us riding on a crest of low unemployment) enjoyed a boom and saw luxurious dwellings bought by locals as second residences. In many cases, locals did a brisk business selling to foreigners. This mad race gave birth to acute gentrification. Nobody anticipated the sudden explosion in selling and leasing prices which, as can be expected, pushed prices out of reach of the locals.
Following the tsunamis of property prices extenuated by the sudden collapse of the bubble financed by cheap bank credit, the country faced a large number of empty properties and angry estate agents looking for non-existent buyers. Furthermore, many construction companies collapsed due to oversupply of units since they did not manage to complete the projects. Nonetheless, there is something of the zeitgeist about gentrification. Until a few years ago, only academic geographers and housing campaigners used the term. In recent years, however, the concept has entered the mainstream and the word has become increasingly ubiquitous in what seems like almost every city across the world.
For instance, in the city of Malaga, an important urban project took place just a few years ago. A renewal plan was commissioned to unify the waterfront structures and to improve the storm water system especially in zones plagued with stagnant water. Both cities now share the feature of a coastal area geared to pedestrians, where traffic is limited or forbidden except for residents, encouraging the public to use public transport. Furthermore, more job vacancies were created because of enhanced business opportunities. Finally, due to improved design in spatial quarters, this reduced pollution and the noise levels from excessive traffic.
Can all this regeneration bliss ever visit this tiny island? There are many examples in Paceville where developers have exploited the land to build awful glass and concrete structures mainly to accommodate the growing demand for hotels, restaurants, bars and office premises rented at astronomical rates to tenants with deep pockets in the iGaming industry. This has led to a spiralling rise in rents which slowly engulfed the entire island. Can this cause a social and environmental disaster? Is there any end to the race to maximise profit by developers riding the high wave of this property boom? How is the economy benefitting from this short-term exploitation of land? What is the environmental damage caused by a cacophony of concrete structures like the maze we are cursed with when we visit the MIDI residential complex in Tigné Point?
MEPA had commissioned consultants MacDonald to design a holistic master plan to rescue Paceville. This plan (which was never approved due to protests) runs in four main phases. During the initial phase, a waterfront will be built along the coastline, from the St George’s Corinthia Hotel area to Portomaso. This faced fierce opposition from certain sectors, especially concerning disagreements with landlords. Both parties will have to reach a compromise in order to pursue the plan and not upset owners’ interests. The initial phase is mainly based on solving the street parking in some areas and establishing restrictions for the rest of Paceville to avoid the current overcrowding and improve the width of the streets. It is positive that more parking areas for residents will be built. Thus, Paceville will breathe again with areas that are more open, wider streets and well-defined pathways.
During the second phase, a tunnel will be built to reduce traffic congestion, specifically by its entrance and exit (this reminds me of the underground tunnel promised by the MIDI development to reduce traffic by linking it to Manoel Island). In addition, a pilot cycle corri- dor will be created to encourage the use of more ecological means of transport instead of cars. Finally, the last phase will involve the bus loop construction. The introduction of cycle and pedestrians facilities will hopefully lead to greater use of public transport rather than private cars. But the plan was strongly opposed by residents and other environmental agencies saying that rents and selling prices will rise too much, forcing them to leave Paceville (gentrification phenomenon).
However, the government’s budget for next year wants to establish rules in order to avoid unbridled gentrification and protect the interest of the tenants who are not tourists. Considering all the data presented in the regeneration of Paceville, I would agree that the master plan is a respectable one albeit not bold enough. Although it gave rise to negative dialogue with the population and other NGOs, I think everyone will agree that the environs of Paceville urgently need a boost. Certainly, it is important to control gentrification and to ensure that the authorities properly regulate the issue of new permits for its regeneration, taking care of the citizens’ concerns and following the MacDonald recommendations by providing and increasing the utility of public services in the area. To learn the lesson from Spain, one should never allow residents to be held hostage by the private interests of the speculators.