Thursday 6 March 2014
Barcelona Theme Park? Neighbourhood conflicts and urban tourism in Barcelona
Speaker: Claire Colomb (University College London)
Chair: Prof. Sebastian Balfour
Time: 18 h.
Place: LSE, Portugal Street, Cowdray House, 1st floor, Seminar Room 1.11
This talk explored the local social conflicts and recent mobilizations which have been generated by the increasing dominance of tourism in urban space and in the urban economic development strategy of Barcelona. The city has consolidated itself as a major European tourist destination since the early 1990s: tourist flows grew from 1.7 million to 7 million annual visitors between 1990 and 2010; while the total number of hotel beds has more than tripled in the same period. In recent years, debates have emerged amongst local residents in popular tourist neighbourhoods, in particular Ciutat Vella (the medieval district of the city), about the negative impacts which mass tourism has had on the city’ urban fabric and on the daily life of locals. The growing visitor economy has triggered visible changes in urban space, which are increasingly felt and contested by local residents.
While tourists patron local shops, cultural venues, restaurants and cafés, they have increasingly been perceived as a source of nuisance (e.g. litter, overcrowding and noise). The tourist demand for particular types of venues and services has been rapidly appropriated by local entrepreneurs or external investors who have opened (or converted) businesses to cater for the visitor economy. This has put visible pressures on existing businesses and residents, through rent increases, pressures for land use changes, building conversions, the displacement of businesses serving local needs and a rise in consumer prices for certain goods. There has been a rapid increase in the opening of new hotels and hostels, as well as a sharp rise in the conversion of residential apartments into holiday rentals (legal and illegal) – a major topic of contention in Barcelona. In recent years, traditional “neighbours’ associations” (associacions de veins i veïnes) and other grassroot actors have played a prominent role in raising public and media awareness about the social and urban costs of tourism, and in calling for more policy intervention and public regulation of tourism by the city’s government. Such associations have a strong tradition of activism dating back from the Franco era.
This talk investigated the emergence of a public debate about the negative impacts of urban tourism in Barcelona and the ‘politicization from below’ of the topic of urban tourism. It addressed the following questions: Who are the stakeholders who started a debate about tourism’s adverse impacts on neighbourhoods and what are their arguments? How do they politicize the issue and mobilize support? What kind of demands do they make on the city’ governments for more policy intervention, planning regulation or control? How has the city’s government addressed these demands and faced the tensions which arise from the impact of tourism on the city’s urban fabric and social life?
Dr. Claire Colomb
Prof. Sebastian Balfour and Dr. Claire Colomb