I suppose every big, popular, and growing city has its gentrification issues. In New York, it looks like Brooklyn is well on its way and Harlem is next on the “shopping block” for well-off and motivated investors and retirees.
Even small towns are not immune…Boulder (Colorado), Jackson (Wyoming), Traverse City (Michigan), Portland (Maine), to name a few. The common cadence: long-time residents being pushed out due to rising real estate prices and general cost o’ living. Some places, like our fine burg of Boulder, recognize what is happening and have attempted to ameliorate the process with “affordable housing programs” for people who ordinarily wouldn’t be able to live there–you know, poor, low income folks like firemen, policemen, school teachers, and so on.
Here in Barcelona, the barrio known as Vallcarca, uphill from Plaza Lesseps, has been the epicenter of a similar fight. Their chief complaints:
–Real estate speculation and development (much of it corrupt!?) which threatens to force out long-time residents.
–Urban growth master plans that don’t necessarily take into account the desires of the local population.
–An emphasis on tourism which also threatens to permanently alter the face of this neighborhood.
Perusing Google, I came across a doctoral thesis that examined this very topic in excruciating detail (382 pages!): Prácticas y poéticas de un barrio en transformación: el caso de Vallcarca en Barcelona, by Marco Luca Stanchieri (November, 2015). Read through it if you would like further info, including some interesting background on the okupa movement in Barcelona, their philosophy and activities.
“Save the old nucleus of Vallcarca…Barcelona is not for sale…” implores the large mural, in Catalan. Many empty lots, from the initial phase of de-construction, can be seen in the area–eventually to be converted into large apartment buildings, unless the resistance somehow prevails. The 2008 recession stopped a lot of this development–for now–and many open spaces are currently used for sports, walking the dog, and social gatherings:
Some impressive urban art can be found along the walls of these vacant lots:
The electric hippo-triceratops (is that what it is???) is one of my favorites–found in yet another vacant lot:
A close-up of another impressive mural. The paper poster says, in Catalan: “Together we build the neighborhood in which we live…Neighbors, wake up, Barcelona is not for sale.”
“Núñez, get out of this neighborhood…Enough [real estate] speculation.” So says the graffiti on this wall. José Luis Núñez was president of Barcelona’s famous football (soccer) team for 22 years but, more relevant here, he is a major real estate developer. Núñez, along with his son, were recently fined a few million Euros and then spent some time relaxing in prison–their reward for being found guilty of bribing tax collectors and of tax evasion (“Caso Hacienda“). Currently, the father-son team is back at the construction and development business.
The poster on the left says,”Núñez and Navarro…guilty of the destruction of Vallcarca…we don’t forget…we don’t forgive.”
Here and there, throughout Barcelona proper, you may run across the attractive advertising signs for ex-felons Núñez and Navarro. Their slogan: “Building Barcelona together.” Obviously, not all would agree, especially up the hill in Vallcarca.
A more direct insult: “Not Núñez, nor Navarro…Capitalism Fuck Off!”
More slogans, this time the theme of tourism infiltrates and rears its cranium…”For a neighborhood for all locals…no tourists, no hostels, no excavators…Tourism kills the neighborhood…In Vallcarca we don’t forget…Don’t let Núñez and Navarro build on top of the homes that they themselves tore down!…Speculators out of the neighborhood!…Núñez and Navarro guilty of the destruction of Vallcarca…we don’t forget…we don’t forgive!”
And just in case the anti-tourism message didn’t get through, here’s an especially in-your-face version. If you have walked Las Ramblas or tried to shove your way through La Boqueria market recently, you may sympathize. Barcelona can indeed appear to be inundated by gangs of red umbrella-following tourists, many coming from the parade of monster cruise ships that dock regularly at the port.
Still, don’t fret if you have travels plans to Barcelona. My experience has been that most locals you meet are actually quite friendly and accepting, and will kindly give you directions to wherever you might be headed (especially if you can toss out a few words in Catalan rather than Castellano/Spanish, or English!).