Tourism, gentrification and property speculation
Do you think you live in a sustainable, culturally vibrant city or neighbourhood full of great possibilities?
This is what we’re all being sold, but nowadays I have the feeling that all cities are copying the same storyline. But the fact that Madrid or Barcelona, for example, are sold as if they were Amsterdam or Madrid hides a somewhat uncomfortable truth.
The phenomenon of gentrification is neither new nor a consequence of the different industrial revolutions. Gentrification occurs when an area becomes attractive for the more affluent classes that settle there, and in doing so, change its urban characteristics. And this phenomenon has now accelerated due to tourism and real estate speculation.
Gentrification is inherent to the development of cities and happens when there’s a relative improvement to urban areas. This evolution of a number of neighbourhoods is one of the points in favour of gentrification. And this phenomenon turns run-down areas and families with low incomes into mainstream neighbourhoods occupied by people with higher purchasing power.
But, nowadays, it doesn’t matter if you live on a motorway interchange, if stag party tourists surround your home or if your metropolitan area is in the process of industrial redevelopment, whatever your neighbourhood and city may be like, chances are it’s now being advertised worldwide as a hotbed of emerging, entrepreneurial and of course, sustainable culture.
The brand was created as a sign to differentiate the livestock
The concept of a “brand” dates back thousands of years. Since then, it’s been used by all cultures to identify a particular product or service from its competitors. Today, companies want to continue separating their products from those of their competitors. While, cities, which sometimes act like companies, invest vast amounts of money in city branding strategies that are not differentiating in any way.
Each one of them appears to be doing everything possible to convince us that it’s exactly the same as any other city that’s considered cool and they forget that the identities of the cities lie in the cities themselves.
But what if cities are actually looking more and more like each other? Beyond communication, there’s a general feeling that when we travel, no matter where, we find the same restaurants, cafes, shops and public spaces.
It’s not just a feeling. Cities have always been closely tied to trading. What’s happening now is that markets are global, and gentrification is a global strategy.
Despite what we think, Gentrification is a purely economic issue. The prevailing style of the creative classes is the trail by which to follow by a multimillion-dollar real estate process with devastating consequences, including for those creative classes that sooner or later are forced out of the neighbourhoods they came to regenerate but can no longer afford to live there.
Touristification aggravates both the after effect and the homogenisation. And its causes are the same. Administrations are responsible when they start regeneration processes without implementing housing policies that include prices and speculation. For this reason, these city branding strategies which are designed for tourists and investors are even more dangerous as they don’t consider the effect on the residents in the area.
What’s happening with gentrification?
We already saw it happen in the Madrid neighbourhoods of Malasaña and Chueca in the 1990s and also in the Raval and Gótico in Barcelona. Central areas, where lower-middle-class families once lived were hipsterised; their neighbours were shocked by the transformation of their urban landscape and seeing how the price of housing in the area became more expensive. Business premises have been refined to the point of falling flat on their faces and having to move to the outskirts, while others have adapted to the new environment. And this is precisely one of gentrification’s negative aspects.
But we must also look at the other side of the coin, gentrification not only increases the price of housing, it also leads to the creation of new jobs, businesses, schools and endless improvements that can be taken advantage of by the residents of those areas. And then there’s also the cultural and artistic progress that gentrified neighbourhoods typically experience – a generalised urban facelift which inevitably attracts the attention of tourism, another of the accelerants of gentrification. At least in recent times.
For the time being, we’ll continue the search to achieve a model that brings together the improvements of the neighbourhoods: more security, more sophistication, improved living conditions in city centres, and respect for the daily life of its inhabitants would be the ideal.
In any case, for the moment, gentrification is surviving the test of time. It continues transforming the face of city centres with the same glimpse of “retro-sustainable-cool” that seems to be fashionable and is the main slogan of any city branding strategy, regardless of its true identity. For now, all we can do is wait for a differentiating model.