Gentrification (and Tourism) in Barcelona, the Case of Vallcarca

Vallcarca, #11. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #11. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017 (“Vallcarca…For the people…”)

 

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.

Some images…

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: 

Vallcarca, #8. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #8. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017

 

Some impressive urban art can be found along the walls of these vacant lots:

Vallcarca, #6. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #6. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017

 

The electric hippo-triceratops (is that what it is???) is one of my favorites–found in yet another vacant lot:

Vallcarca, #3. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #3. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017

 

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.

Vallcarca, #10. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #10. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017

 

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.

Vallcarca, #7. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #7. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017

 

The poster on the left says,”Núñez and Navarro…guilty of the destruction of Vallcarca…we don’t forget…we don’t forgive.”

Vallcarca, #9. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #9. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017

 

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.

Vallcarca, #15. Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #15. Barcelona, 2017

 

A more direct insult: “Not Núñez, nor Navarro…Capitalism Fuck Off!”

Vallcarca, #13. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #13. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017

 

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!

Vallcarca, #12. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #12. Vallcarca, Barcelona, 2017

 

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!).

Vallcarca, #14. Barcelona, 2017
Vallcarca, #14. Barcelona, 2017

Catalan freedom of expression and protest

The Catalan culture has a long history of (normally) very peaceful protest movements. The current independence movement being the most striking example. There may very well be an independent Catalan state within our generation.

Independence and Socialism. Manresa, Catalunya, 2013
Independence and Socialism. Manresa, Catalunya, 2013

Another example of this need to protest perceived injustices, is the “Okupa” movement. (For detail, see THIS LINK and scroll down to the section on Spain…or, try their actual Barcelona website HERE.) Imagine a group of youths moving in to large homes and apartments that had been sitting empty. The simple explanation might be, why do the banks and the rich keep such shelter empty when there are many unfortunates without a roof under which to sleep?

You may not agree with this general idea, but it is a strong movement and, most importantly, it doesn’t just stop at the notion of housing for the poor and marginalized–it extends also to many other perceived injustices in Spain’s consumer capitalist culture. (The Okupas are closely associated with the anarchists.) The building in this image may serve as one of the many Okupa social centers in Barcelona:

Occupy & Resist. Barcelona, 2013
Occupy & Resist. Barcelona, 2013

Another minor (or major, depending on your perspective) protest broke out a few years ago in Barcelona when word got out that the City was contemplating the closure of Parc Güell and the charging of an admission fee. The Park has traditionally been open to the public, travelers, and residents (except for the museum house) and so this was an anathema to many.

Some felt that the Park was being overrun by too many tour buses, that there were too many foreigners selling cheap, made-in-China trinkets, that the place had turned into a very worn out and trampled zoo. Others feared the loss of freedom and openness a closure would cause. And where, exactly, would the money from ticket sales go? There was a healthy and not unreasonable fear of government corruption (or at least the diversion of funds to other projects).

It seems a compromise has been reached. Now, if you want to visit most of the Park’s acreage, including the spectacular viewpoint at the three crosses, you can, at no cost. However, if you wish to visit the plaza area of the Park (those beautiful mosaic benches, the unusual tilting columns, the entrance buildings, the famous lizard, etc.), then you will have to pay 7 or 8 Euros depending on your age (tourist and travel info HERE).

Now maybe you understand the significance of the following image, which depicts a small protest altar (symbolically using padlocks) near one of the upper entrances to the park.

Parc Güell Protest Altar. Barcelona, 2013
Parc Güell Protest Altar. Barcelona, 2013

Finally, still on the subject of protests, there is a huge, awesome mural of a shark made of Euros (symbol of the USA, or western capitalism in general?) that has always caught my eye. It is located where the Carrer del Santuari passes over a high point just east of Parc Güell (you can get there following trails high and east of the Park).

This mural was apparently put up some years ago (2008) at the start of this past economic crisis, and the shark was pointedly oriented with its open, deadly mouth taking aim at some old leftist slogans, including the symbol of the defunct USSR (now barely visible). The creator was an Italian artist, BLU. This mural is fading fast (in this image, I have upped the contrast and saturation of the shark to make it stand out), so better get there soon if you still want to see it!

Blu's Capitalist Shark. Barcelona, 2013
Blu’s Capitalist Shark. Barcelona, 2013

An interesting postscript: For a really bizarre, imaginative, and interesting wall painting animation done by BLU, check out this 7 1/2 minute YouTube video: