Statistical Error

Image from study captioned “possibly the most densely populated km2 in Europe”

In 2018, a study was published that situated “Europe’s most densely inhabited square kilometer” in the working-class town of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, Catalonia’s second-biggest city after Barcelona, with which it is contiguous. Urban Studies and Planning Professor Alasdair Rae used official census statistics to precisely locate Europe’s densest square kilometer at Collblanc – La Torrassa, within which a population of 50,000 resides.

But something doesn’t seem quite right with this analysis. While Collblanc – La Torrassa is indeed quite densely populated, its streets are relatively peaceful and uncrowded compared with Barcelona’s historic El Raval neighborhood, where sidewalks are often overflowing with people. Statistically, which is to say “officially”, El Raval’s 1.1 square kilometers has a population of just under 50,000, which is less than Collblanc – La Torrassa.

However, El Raval is one of Spain’s most multicultural neighborhoods; home to a high number of indocumentados (“undocumenteds”, or what in the USA are referred to as “illegal aliens.”) Many indocumentados live in squalid, overcrowded squats; sleeping in camas calientes (hot beds) that are rented out by human-traficking mafias in 8 hour shifts. The exact number of people who live undocumented in El Raval is unknown, of course, but judging by its high number of officially empty flats that are in reality squatted, an estimate approaching ten thousand indocumentados would not be unreasonable. That would certainly make this square kilometer much more densely populated than any other in Europe.

Now add all the tourists, a more itinerant and fluctuating population that is also unaccounted for in Rae’s study. Shouldn’t they also count as “population”? They certainly take up an inordinate amount of space. Collblanc – La Torrassa has almost no tourists, while El Raval is crawling with them year-round; mostly hipsters attracted to its “street culture”. In fact, tourists are one of Barcelona’s main immigrant-attractions: the hospitality industry depends on them to fulfill unskilled, exploitative shit-jobs. The number of tourist beds in El Raval does have a real number: 9,985. But there are also many unlicensed tourist apartments that are not counted, so the real number is higher yet. There is also a high university student population that is officially considered to still be living with their parents in other barrios, as well as hundreds of homeless persons living in the streets of El Raval. Official statistics omit all these factors, which paint a profoundly different reality on the ground.

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