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Protest, resistance and regulation in the tourist city (Berlin Barcelona)
This project (carried out with Dr Johannes Novy) concentrates on the local social conflicts and movements which surround the increasing dominance of tourism in urban space and in the urban economic development strategies of the cities of Berlin and Barcelona. Both Barcelona and Berlin have consolidated themselves as major tourist destinations since the early 1990s. Tourist flows in Barcelona grew from 1.7 million to 7 million annual visitors between 1990 and 2010; in Berlin from 3 to 9 million between 1993 and 2010. In both cities the total number of hotel beds has more than tripled in the same period. In recent years, in both cities debates have emerged amongst the local residents and grassroot organizations of popular tourist neighbourhoods about the negative impacts which mass tourism has had on the cities’ urban fabric and on the daily life of local residents. These debates have been increasingly publicized in the local media and gradually pushed within the formal political sphere. In Barcelona, conflicts and debates have centred on the historical district of Ciutat Vella (the medieval district of the city), which concentrates a significant part of total tourist flows in a very dense urban district suffering from various physical, economic and social problems. In recent years the district’s “neighbours’ associations” (associacions de veins i veïnes) have played a prominent role in raising public awareness and putting the topic of urban tourism on the political agenda of the city, through various forms of mobilizations and actions. Such associations have a strong tradition of activism dating back from the Franco era, but their cohesiveness has been challenged by the rapid socio-demographic transformation of inner-city neighbourhoods. In Berlin, recent debates have focused mostly on the impact of a particular form of tourism – ‘off the beaten track’ youth tourism or ‘new tourism’ - on the restructuring and gentrification of ethnically mixed residential neighbourhoods such as Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain or, mostly recently, parts of Neukölln. In both cities the growing visitor economy has triggered material transformations of 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 (e.g. bike rental shops or bars) 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 – a major topic of contention in Barcelona and, increasingly, in Berlin. This has prompted various organisations to call for more policy intervention and public regulation of tourism by the cities’ governments. The project investigates the emergence of a public debate about the negative impacts of urban tourism in both cities and the ‘politicization from below’ of the topic of urban tourism, i.e. under the impetus of grassroot organizations and citizens’ mobilizations. It also looks at the demands for more regulation of tourism flows, practices, economies and their impacts on urban space and at public policy responses to these demands (e.g. regulations of short-term holiday rentals).
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