Policy & Planning
April 7, 2017

Daily Scot: The Impacts of Barcelona’s Strategic Tourism Plan

Scot picked up this from the CBC:


Barcelona has had its fill of tourists. …
Two months ago, city council approved a ban on all new hotels, hostels and tourist apartments in the city centre.
It expects to go even further today with the Strategic Tourism Plan, which will regulate all aspects of tourism, from working conditions in the sector to the way tourists use public space. …
Measures in the pipeline include hiking taxes on tourist apartments by classifying them as businesses rather than residential properties — to the annoyance of owners, who complain they are unfairly targeted. …
Another measure aims to raise costs for day-trippers with a massive fee hike — from 4.5 euros to 34 euros — for each tourist bus that parks at the foot of Montjuic, the castle-topped hill that overlooks the city and the port.
Some measures are already being rolled out. One neighbourhood has repurposed curbside parking, moving restaurant terraces off busy sidewalks and onto platforms installed on parking spots.
Segways and electric bikes, which pose a danger in the old town’s narrow streets, have also been restricted. …
Airbnb is refusing to pay the $650,000 US fine that Barcelona slapped on it last year, and finding and then shutting down illegal apartments one by one is a lengthy, inefficient process.
In the historic Gothic district, 27 per cent of all housing is being used as tourist accommodation and rents have shot up by 25 per cent since 2014, official city statistics show.
They also reveal that the number of residents in the area has fallen by almost one-half in the past decade. …
Local shops that have been serving residents for a lifetime have been forced to make way for pricey, tourist-oriented emporiums, says Agustin Cócola, a Cardiff University geographer studying the effects of tourism in Barcelona. …
Tourism creates an estimated 14 per cent of jobs in Barcelona, according to a 2016 official city report.
But much of that work pays minimum wage or less — meaning workers don’t pay tax. Many of the jobs are also seasonal, says Cócola. …
The dilemma is that whatever problems the tourist hordes bring, no one wants to kill the golden goose.
At the end of the day, the business community knows that if the city becomes oversaturated and homogeneous, it could lose the charm that drew visitors in the first place, says Colom.
Maintaining a balance is in everyone’s interest, he says. But agreeing on how to do that is proving to be easier said than done.
Full story here.

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PT posted on an item on the Barcelona proposal to create “mini neighbourhoods around which traffic will flow, and in which spaces will be repurposed: The Transformation of Barcelona’s Eixample
The New York Times reports an update: What New York Can Learn From Barcelona’s ‘Superblocks’ 
 
Beginning in September, city officials started creating a system of so-called superblocks across the city that will severely limit vehicles as a way to reduce traffic and air pollution, use public space more efficiently and essentially make neighborhoods more pleasant.
Under the plan, the superblocks will be overlaid on the existing street grid, each one consisting of as many as nine contiguous blocks. Within each superblock, streets and intersections will be largely closed to traffic and used as community spaces such as plazas, playgrounds and gardens. Ms. Sanz said that at least five superblocks were expected to be designated by 2018.

 An intersection in El Poblenou, a section of Barcelona, that was transformed into a playground with a soccer field and sandbox.

Barcelona’s system of superblocks — called “superilles” in Catalan — would go well beyond the pedestrian plazas that have sprouted up on the streets of New York City. While those spaces have carved out more room for pedestrians in busy corridors, the superblocks represent a more radical approach that fundamentally challenges the notion that streets even belong to cars. …

Marta Louro, 40, a teacher who lives next to an intersection, said the superblock would make streets safer and reduce pollution. “It gives priority to the pedestrian,” she said. “I believe it’s very important that people have space.”

But others have expressed concerns that they will have to walk farther to a bus stop, or will have a harder time using their cars or finding parking. “It’s not a bad idea,” said Oriol Sanchez, 25, a waiter who drives to work. “But for me, it’s a problem for my car.”

Visitación Soria, 78, said the superblock would not be embraced by everyone. “People like their cars,” she said.“People are already saying there’s a problem finding parking, and this will make it worse.”

The plan for a superblock in the El Poblenou district

The superblocks are part of a comprehensive program to improve the city’s transportation networks and reduce their environmental impact, Ms. Sanz Cid said. The effort, called the Urban Mobility Plan, includes increasing bus service, extending train lines to the suburbs and tripling the number of bike lanes. …

In Gràcia, where more than two-thirds of the streets were turned into public spaces, car traffic has dropped to 81,514 trips annually from 95,889 before the superblocks were established. Street life is thriving: Pedestrians now make 201,843 trips annually through Gràcia, up 10 percent from before the superblocks. Cyclists make 10,143 trips annually, a 30 percent increase.

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From The Guardian:

… the challenge most likely to define her time in office will be taming Barcelona’s tourist industry. In its transformation, since the 1992 Olympics, into the self-styled capital of the Mediterranean, and the fourth-most-visited city in Europe, Barcelona has become a victim of its own success. In the old town, evictions are common – a direct result of rents being driven up by tourist apartments – and residents complain that their neighbourhoods have become unlivable. “You really can’t walk down some streets in the summer,” one local told me, “as in, you physically can’t fit.”

The scale of the problem is made clear by a few simple figures: in 1990, Barcelona had 1.7 million visitors making overnight stays – only a little more than the population of the city; in 2016, the number has risen to more than eight million. …

As tourism has exploded, radically reshaping the city, the question of who Barcelona is ultimately for has become increasingly insistent. “Any city that sacrifices itself on the altar of mass tourism,” Colau has said, “will be abandoned by its people when they can no longer afford the cost of housing, food and basic everyday necessities.” …

Soon after her election, Colau announced a year-long moratorium on new hotels and tourist apartments, disrupting over 30 planned hotel projects. In March 2016, the city hall extended the ban, and is proposing to direct any future expansion to the periphery of the city, away from the over-burdened old town.

City hall has also fined Airbnb and its rival Homeaway €60,000 each for advertising illegal tourist apartments – ones that had not been registered and were therefore not necessarily paying taxes or fees. In April, city hall announced it was looking into a specific tourist tax levied on those not making overnight stays: cruise ship passengers and day-trippers. Many of these initiatives have come from Ada Colau’s new tourism council, which features input from ordinary Barcelonans, as well as the industry.

 

Full story here.

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From The Guardian:

In the latest attempt from a big city to move away from car hegemony, Barcelona has ambitious plans. Currently faced with excessive pollution and noise levels, the city has come up with a new mobility plan to reduce traffic by 21%. And it comes with something extra: freeing up nearly 60% of streets currently used by cars to turn them into so-called “citizen spaces”. The plan is based around the idea of superilles (superblocks) – mini neighbourhoods around which traffic will flow, and in which spaces will be repurposed to “fill our city with life”, as its tagline says.

This plan will start in the famous gridded neighbourhood of Eixample. That revolutionary design, engineered by Ildefons Cerdà in the late 19th century, had at its core the idea that the city should breathe and – for both ideological and public health reasons – planned for the population to be spread out equally, as well as providing green spaces within each block. Reality and urban development have, however, got the best of it, and as the grid lines became choked with cars, the city’s pollution and noise levels have skyrocketed. What was once a design to make Barcelona healthier, now has to be dramatically rethought for the same reasons.

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pricetags: It’s about time.  Despite the romanticization of the Cerdà plan (never ultimately built out in the way he intended), the result, as recognized above, was not that pleasant: wide streets, fast traffic, noisy and polluted.  And the relentless grid, standard heights and similar architecture actually make it hard to navigate.  Even the chamfered intersections are not that pedestrian friendly – full of parked cars and garbage bins.

Anywhere in the Eixample

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How Other Cities Do It, and Why Can’t We? Lance Berelowitz . Every time I return to Vancouver from a trip to one or another foreign city, I am struck by how many creative yet sensible things that those cities facilitate are not permitted here at home. Compared to such cities, Vancouver seems overregulated. We handicap ourselves in terms of what is allowed under local laws, regulations and customs: sometimes it feels like we are running this town with one hand tied behind our collective backs.
And not surprisingly, this shows up in many indicators, such as fewer independent business start-ups, higher start-up costs and slower approvals, a less than vibrant public realm, anemic arts and cultural sectors (no fault of the artists who struggle to work here), an aversion to entrepreneurial risk taking, and an overbearing police culture that seems focused on snuffing out the first hints of public fun while somehow missing the point of city life.
What do I mean, specifically? Here are some examples:
Recently in Barcelona, we found ourselves in the midst of a community festival in the Gracia neighbourhood. No, I don’t mean a single fenced-off street, with controlled entry beer gardens (think Kits Days, say). The entire area – streets, squares, parks, public buildings, cafes – was taken over by the festivities, be it parades, fireworks, decorated streets, parties, sidewalk sales of beer and cocktails everywhere, live music stages, food and craft stalls, and so on. Everyone participated, from cool hipsters to families with young kids to bemused tourists (like us) to old geezers watching it all go by.
Oh, and the police were there too, mixing in with the residents, a subtle presence that blended into the crowd. And not a crowd-control fence in site. It was one huge party, and the atmosphere was totally chill. There was a genuine sense of community, of people owning their neighbourhood and using it as they saw fit.
Barcelona also has a richly animated urban waterfront, with rows of beachside bars and restaurant terraces right on the sand for those wanting to have a drink or tapas while at the beach. So civilized. And not a beach lout in sight.
The beachfront has an extraordinary concentration of public art as well as other services and amenities such as a free book lending program (yup!), kiosks selling sunscreen, hats, umbrellas, beach chairs, roller blades, etc., bike rentals, showers, lockers, change rooms, public toilets, water fountains, benches, recycling facilities, loudspeakers for public announcements and music, bandstands, and so on.

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In other words, Barcelona has taken one of its most prized assets – its waterfront – and optimized it for public use and pleasure. There is an entire micro-economy going on here, employing hundreds of people in formal and informal ways. (Yes, of course Barcelona has its share of beggars, street hustlers and drug dealers, of course, just like any big city does.)
Or how about Sydney, Australia? There, sidewalks are optimized for use, whether that means sidewalk tables spilling out from myriad bars and cafes, with none of those absurd physical barriers between seated customers (who – gasp – drink real alcohol) and passersby; or upper floors built out over the sidewalks that accommodate pub and restaurant terraces, while providing shade for pedestrians below.

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Try do that in Vancouver. Even the provision of toilets in such establishments is not always strictly ‘by the book’, and neighbouring businesses sometimes share such facilities where it would be impractical to do otherwise in older buildings. No-one, as far as I know, has died of such lapses in public health standards. Customer parking too seems to be much less of an issue than here, in that many restaurants simply don’t have any. People manage. Real cities adapt.
Malaga, a hardboiled working port and the gateway to southern Spain, has an entire web of older narrow streets in its core that have been completely pedestrianized, facilitating a city of sublime outdoor living that has to be one of the most amenable urban environments anywhere. Streets have elegant fabric canopies strung between the tops of opposing buildings to provide shade below. The roads are paved in marble. I kid you not. Fruit-bearing orange and olive trees grow in plazas. Commercial deliveries, garbage collection, emergency services all somehow manage. The pedestrian is king.

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This seems timely.  A comparison of Atlanta and Barcelona with respect to their impacts on climate change:

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From the Washington Post:

These two cities illustrate a big piece of the climate change picture that gets much less attention than coal plants or hybrid cars: As the world urbanizes at break-neck speed, the way we design growing cities will heavily determine the environmental impact of the people who live there. And decisions we make today about where and how to invest in transportation will lock in those impacts for decades.
If the world’s cities develop like sprawling Atlanta, the area of urbanized land on the planet could triple from 2000 to 2030, according to the World Resources Institute report. The number of cars could double to 2 billion, as could the amount of land used globally per household.
The problems that would then arise would be both environmental and economic. We’d have to spend a lot more money paving roads and extending utilities to people who live farther apart than in close quarters. Houston, WRI points to as an example, spends about 14 percent of its GDP on transportation. Compact, bike-happy Copenhagen devotes about 4 percent.
The alternative to Atlanta doesn’t have to look like Manhattan (Barcelona is nowhere near as dense as that). And it would be hypocritical of Americans who already enjoy extensive road infrastructure, ubiquitous cars and spacious homes to now lecture the developing world that it can’t have the same. The fundamental issue here, though, isn’t about forcing everyone into high-rises or out of their cars and onto bicycles. It’s about planning for the growth to come instead of simply letting it happen haphazardly.

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What is 22@ ?
First of all, 22@ is a bit of a visual joke.  “22a” was the zoning designation for industrial lands in Barcelona.  With the substitution of @ for a, suddenly detritus from the 19th-century became fertile ground for the 21st.
Broadly, 22@ is another example of the Barcelona Model – a grandly conceived strategy, formulated jointly by the public and private sectors – some say, the ruling class or establishment – to renew the city in order to maintain Barcelona’s world-class status by exploiting dominant urban and economic trends of the time. Particularly in conjunction with a world-sized event.
Technically, 22@Barcelona are the plans and policies for two hundred hectares of dormant industrial land in Poblenou – once the Manchester of Catalonia – to create “an innovative district offering modern spaces for the strategic concentration of intensive knowledge-based activities.”
Specifically, 115 blocks accommodating four million square metres of space were rezoned in 2000 as a public-private initiative, focused on five high-tech commercial and research hubs for media, renewable energy, medicine, information technology and design.
And because this is Barcelona, the city undertook to ensure subsidised and private housing, green space and public schools, sports facilities and medical clinics.  Plus the protections of an Industrial Heritage Plan.

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Barcelona was one of the first cities to pursue this high-tech dream, and the initial results were encouraging:

As of December 2011, an estimated 4,500 new companies had moved to the district since 2000, an average of 545 per year and 1.2 per day, although the most prolific era was from 2003 to 2006. Of the 4,500 companies, 47.3 percent were new start-ups. The rest moved from other locations. About 31 percent of companies in 22@ are technology or knowledge-based companies.

Urbanistically, 22@ is a kaleidoscope of mixed uses, where residential, commercial and  industrial buildings, new and old, co-exist, sometimes brutally and in close proximity.  This loose form of planning, more intent than typology, has produced a distinct character in a city of distinct districts.
22@ today is shorthand for the activities and form of the evolving districts on either side the The Diagonal:

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Less apparent but as important is the Integrated Infrastructure Plan – a 180-million euro refurbishment of the public spaces and utility network: power supply, telecom network, centralized climate control, and, coolest of all, a pneumatic refuse collection system.

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Most tourists think of Old Barcelona (Ciutat Vella) as synonymous with the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) – a maze of medieval streets and stone buildings, with La Rambla running down the centre.   It’s more complicated than that. .  Cuitat Vella (Old Barcelona)   . La Rambla (in red, above) actually divides a poorer and until recently what many considered a dangerous neighbourhood, the Raval (in green), from the the Gothic Quarter (in purple) and, beyond that, the trendy and more authentic Born (in orange).  Details here.   Three hundred meters off  La Rambla into Raval is Plaça dels Àngels, home to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art –  architect Richard Meier’s gleaming modernist composition in white (well, aren’t they all?), commissioned in 1986 before the museum even had a collection.  The building and plaza are the Barcelona version of the decade-earlier Pompidou Centre in Paris: an attraction and open space inserted into the dense fabric of the city’s oldest section as part of a larger scheme of revitalization.    .

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It’s not clear whether the authorities or Meier expected that Plaça dels Àngels (map herewould become the intense centre of activity that has emerged, particularly for skateboarders – but it’s hard to find photos (or walk through the plaza) in which there are not youth on boards.  This hard-surfaced, largely unobstructed space, with a long shelf perfect for boarding, seems designed for that purpose – and there are none of those little brackets to deter the skaters.  Skating may be as significant a draw as the museum; it certainly adds more life.  


    Combined with the bladers, Bici bikers, strollers and runners, this is the City as Workout, Barcelona-style.

While you’re wandering through Raval, continue another half kilometre to the Rambla del Raval (map here) – the newest of the ramblas, developed in 1995 to give a green lung to one of the densest communities in the city.

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Just off Rambla del Raval is the not entirely successful Plaça de Vasquez Montalban (map here) with its elipitcal hotel, and off that, a small plaza and home to the new Filmoteca de Catalunya, filled with the Barcelona version of hipsters.

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 Plaça de George Orwell is a tight triangular space in the centre of the Gothic Quarter:

 

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It’s best if you serendipitously stumble upon it while meandering through the neighbourhood, just about the time you need a coffee or claras (look it up).  Then you can negotiate for a view seat to watch the daily life of a quarter still not entirely overtaken by AirBnB.

This is what you may see:


 

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 Actually, you’ll see the children’s play areas everywhere throughout the city:    . Typically with real live children playing in them.  . The George Orwell part?   He fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and from his time there wrote Homage to Catalonia.  Nigel Richardson, for Britain’s Telegraph, revisited the streets the author would have trodden.

As for Orwell, the only reference is a small square named after him, which in any case is known locally by another name, “Plaça del Tripi”, or “Acid Square”: the Plaça de George Orwell, complete with Big Brother-ish surveillance cameras, is where Barcelona’s youth kick back on illicit substances.

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In a city with lots of over-the-top architecture, it’s my favourite extravagance:

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This waterfall in the Parc de la Ciutadella (map here) was inaugurated in 1881 as a triumphal arch and then, after six years of construction, upgraded as a fountain in time for the Universal Exhibition of 1888.  The redesign is credited to Josep Fontsére, but there’s always a note that “to a small extent” Antoni Gaudí added some details.

And details there are:

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It’s the Trevi Fountain of Barcelona.

Two enormous pincers of gigantic crabs serve as stairs to access a small podium located in the centre of the monument. In front of it a sculpture (designed by Venanci Vallmitjana) of Venus standing on an open clam was placed.

Obviously, the perfect place for the wedding photos:

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