Is Tourism the Only Thing Killing Barcelona?

IMG_20180721_222751 16.11.26

La Rambla on a warm summer night: tourists, tat, prostitutes, and more tourists.

A few days ago, The Guardian published a piece titled “Why Tourism is Killing Barcelona” that describes the damage that “overtourism” is causing in this city. However, to complete the picture (and since the comments section of the Guardian article is closed), I would like to point out some other things that are also killing Barcelona.

  1. Drugs. Heroin is back in full swing, and Barcelona’s heroin is among the cheapest in Europe. Sometimes it sells for as little as 5€ a fix. How do I know? I live in El Raval, where there are dozens of “narcopisos” (drug dens), which are mostly bank-repossessed flats squatted by drug traffickers. The junkies, many of them homeless, are from all over Europe and beyond; speaking English, Italian, German, and Dutch, among other languages. I suppose we could say that they are “narcotourists,” but what is certain is that they are attracted to the city not by its sights, but by the apparent leniency of local law enforcement, which is concentrating its efforts on jihadist terrorism ever since the attacks of one year ago. Meanwhile, the social degradation that heroin causes is becoming visibly perceptible in parts of the city.
  2. Filth. In my 17 years of living in Barcelona, I have never seen so much trash in the streets. The city’s cleaning crews just can’t keep up. Is it all tourists’ garbage? A good part of it is, yes, but much of it is caused by locals too. Take, for example, the growing mounds of dogshit: you can’t exactly blame tourists for that. Failing to clean up a doggy do-do is illegal, but such laws are completely unenforced. Mayor Ada Colau has no qualms issuing a fine to AirBnB, but when it comes to issuing fines for common incivility, she does not want to come across as repressive.
  3. Disrespect. Barcelona is a densely populated city, and so its citizens have traditionally been quite respectful of one another, and of outsiders. But in recent years, ever since Catalans became divided over the issue of separation from Spain, the level of  common respect has declined significantly. Again, this has nothing to do with tourism, but with regional identity politics. The “passionate debate”, if we can still call it that, is reaching new levels of insults, lies and manipulation among fanatics on both sides of the issue, creating an overall climate of tension.
  4. Inequality. Few European cities reach the level of inequality that Barcelona has sunk to. A back-to-back viddy of the films Biutiful and Vicky, Cristina, Barcelonaboth of which happen to star Javier Bardem, provide a pretty good idea of the vast gulf that exists between rich and poor in this town. This gulf has grown since the crisis, and continues to widen. Yes, tourism has probably contributed to inequality, since it represents almost 15% of the local economy, but it is important to remember that the tourism industry here is largely owned and controlled by a handful of powerful local entrepreneurs. It is they who sold Barcelona to tourists in the first place.

So, the decline of Barcelona can’t be blamed entirely on tourists, amics.

P.S. To read more about the decline of Barcelona, look up Shibboleths, a series of English-language articles published in the alternative monthly BCN MÉS over several years by local cultural critic Jeffrey Swartz.

 

About Rafael Gomez-Moriana

I am an architect, writer and educator. rafagomo.com chronicles my architectural making, writing, teaching and curating activity, while criticalista.com is an archive of my writings as well as a platform for venting personal rants and observations. I studied architecture at the University of Waterloo (Canada) and at the Berlage Institute (the Netherlands). I direct the University of Calgary’s architecture term-abroad program in Barcelona, and have previously taught in the Metropolis Masters Program in Architecture and Urban Culture, CIEE Architecture and Design program, as well as at Carleton University and the University of Manitoba.

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