“Is Barcelona being spoilt by tourists?” This is a question that many Barcelona locals have been asking for some time. In fact, some minds were made up long ago.
It’s been two years since BBC’s Fast-Track came through to gauge the balance of opinion on tourism and everyday life in and around Barcelona’s “Old Town” and other visitor hotspots. Since then, there is perceptibly less grumbling about what, how and why tourism detracts from the city, which says something about public awareness of the economic benefits tourism brings to the city–no one in Spain right now wants to knock a trade that continues to grow and provide jobs.
But the issues surrounding the negative impacts of tourism don’t go away. Do tourism activities and tourist paraphernalia now dominate sense of place in Barcelona’s “historical centre”?
Ensuring residents enjoy liveable places—a liveable city—can often go hand-in-hand with better places to visit. So how can the remaining local charm and local life—those sources of increasing visitor interest (as well as distinct market advantage)—be sustained and nourished so that, further down the line, Barcelona can continue to reap the benefits of visitor arrivals and spend?
These are the issues that I hope will be thoroughly explored at RTD7. I’m also really looking forward to hearing the likes of destination manager and marketers, Pere Duran and Mario Rubert speak on these issues, as well as the very observant human geographer, Jose Antonio Donaire.
Can the RTD7 programme–and the ensuing Declaration–help chart a more sustainable course for a city that continues to prosper from tourism?
“The land itself, of course, has no desires as to how it should be represented. It is indifferent to its pictures and picturers. But maps organise information about a landscape in a profoundly influential way.” (Robert Macfarlane, in The Wild Places)
It struck me that guide books, canned tours and signed tourist itineraries could be considered similarly. Echoing Robert MacFarlane’s words, they “carry out a triage of [a place, not destination‘s] aspects, selecting and ranking those aspects in an order of importance, and so they create forceful biases in the ways a [place, not destination] is perceived and treated”.
If you love human diversity, Barcelona ain’t a bad place to be, particularly as much of that diversity can be spanned in an evening’s walk, slipping through neighbourhoods of various affluence, textures, smells, noise and colour. But this is enabled by apartment-living and jeek-by-jowl population density. Here, a house with a garden arouses curiousity. And you occasionally see where a long-term resident has acheived an abundance of mature greenery in a balcony-sized biosphere. Otherwise, the trees that line the neighbourhood streets and arterial avenues are a mere distraction; an ambience creator shot through by the metal menace, noise and fumes of a vast colony of motorists that thread in, out and around this city incessantly, daily. Which is why, when I walk up into the very hills we could blame for Barcelona’s urban intensity, I so clearly recognise Robert MacFarlane’s sentiment, “the relief of relief” (in The Wild Places).
Evarist March of NaturalWalks joined our group in the afternoon and led us “by the most natural route possible” from the top of the Collserola park down to the station for our suburban train back to Barcelona. One of the most interesting facets of the conversation along the way related to public attitudes to this Natural Park. While it seems much of the media and public discourse on the park is negative, pointing to issues such as the risk of forest fires and wild boars encroaching on peripheral residential areas, few stories celebrate the beauty and mere existence of this diverse natural area so close to the densely-populated built-up area.
Working through Nick Lloyd’s Iberia Nature and Spanish Civil War tours I was able to take some visitors on a rarely-run, long Barcelona walk at the weekend. We ventured through some of the city’s particularly meaning-laden places, as well as other places less well-known, applying a kind of sense of place framework as we went.
Barcelona, post-1992 Olympics, is a story that has been told countless times in print, conference rooms and tour guide banter: finally, after decades with their backs to the Med and their plumbing pointing straight into its immediate depths, the Barcelonins gave their stretch of coastline a spring clean and reacquainted themselves with their maritime souls.
It’s an account that washes over some contradictory and more place-specific detail. For insight, talk to some old-timers in the sea- and portside neighbourhood of La Barceloneta, or ask questions about the former shanty town neighbourhood, El Somorrostro. A good source of such insight might be La Barceloneta Rebel.
My point is that the situation today is generally the reverse. From their homes and workplaces the attentions of many Barcelonins are directed to the beach, to a stroll in sea breeze reverie, or to a plate heaped with steaming cooked gifts from the sea and rice paddy.
Meanwhile, the thoughts of a small minority of Barcelonins slip through the backdoor to the hills behind this compact metropolis: La Collserola natural park.
Outside Barcelona’s principal contemporary art museum, MACBA, skateboarders exhibit their skill, concentration and precision, not unlike the architect who carved new lines and folded new spaces into this mixed urban landscape. Except the skateboarders are indisputably dynamic. Weaving amidst others passing by or lingering here, their movement adds energy to this place, and is inextricably linked to its physical parameters.
Yet the skateboarders can be a noisy nuisance, particularly for nearby residents if the clatter of boards on concrete goes on for hours on end and late into the evening.
What would you do–prohibit, tolerate, regulate, enjoy?
From a lecture by Iain Borden and opinion piece on The Independent‘s pages:
“What skateboarding, and all the myriad urban practices of the city tell us, is that we need to need to celebrate three things: different peoples, different spaces and different ways of knowing the city.”
Launch attended by me, myself and I. Seeking to get more mileage out the work I have done on sense of place in Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella (Old Town) so that it gets followed up by me, yourself and others too. Intentions also to develop further understanding of place, sense of place and taking responsibility for places, leading to tools and processes for achieving better places to live in and better places to visit.