Let’s Get Down to McBarcelona? End of Rent Controls ‘Risks Creating Identikit Metropolis’!

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Since the 1990s – and as exemplified by the classic Les Plasticines track Let’s Get Down to Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia has been a preferred destination for creatives from all over the world. Barcelona is one of those relatively rare cities that seems to have used the opportunities from hosting a major sporting competition – the 1992 Summer Olympics – exceptionally well: everything from its swift and well-designed public transportation to Barcelona’s many and varied leisure facilities evince a world-level metropolis, an incredible achievement given its reputation just thirty years ago as an unattractive and unremarkable Mediterranean port city.

However, one of Barcelona’s most cherished features – its superb range of varied, independent retail offerings – is under assault from a 1994 law that is presently coming into force across Spain. This law – which, ironically, was passed by the socialist government of Felipe González Márquez – mandates the end of rent controls for commercial premises from 2014, and the results have been predictable: landlords’ demands in central Barcelona neighbourhoods have escalated skywards. Space which cost €1,000.00 per month is now being offered at €7,000.00, €8,000.00 or even €35,000.00 for just thirty days’ occupation; given that no one but the biggest international brands can pay this kind of money, Barcelona is swiftly becoming colonised and McDonaldized.

The dangers of Barcelona becoming just like any other major international city are many, but two in particular stand out. Firstly, the almost inevitable cultural homogenisation which will ensue is a genuinely sad development, and hardly befitting of a city synonymous with some of the great art movements of the last century. However, given that Barcelona and other Spanish cities confronting similar pressures are located in a country where youth unemployment refuses to fall below 50% and capitalism as traditionally conceived is but a distant memory, a law which wildly jacks up the price of commercial space overnight hardly seems designed to encourage nascent entrepreneurship. A rethink on a piece of legislation has rarely been more appropriate – or urgent.

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