This summer I have spent most of the time in my hometown. I live in a small narrow street close to the famous and touristy avenue of Las Ramblas. All those who have visited the city know about this beautiful street that has been during decades alongside its surroundings an important part of the city spirit. It has always emanate a distinctive and welcoming character that has been enjoyed by thousands and thousands of citizens and visitors. Since we hosted the Olympics, the city has been receiving more and more tourists each year, being tourism the main economic motor of the city. Unfortunately, a summer in the city has helped me to raise (even more) my awareness about how, step by step, the centre is becoming an amusement park that reproduces a simulated environment for consumerism. The danger of becoming a sterilized space full of hotels, fake local food and stereotyped rituals is quite evident (as shown in a recent documentary by a local TV channel). But rather than stressing the changes from a political, social or economic perspective, I would like to think the implications through a choreographic approach.
Las Ramblas used to be a great promenade to stroll about. Different types of people crossing from side, local stalls of flowers, pets (already gone) and artists created a lively and enigmatic atmosphere. Children running, couples wandering, sailors arriving from the port, old people chatting and watching life passing by. The choreographies of Las Ramblas were infinite and were characterized by our own habits and culture. You could engage with the different rhythms and movements while enjoying reality bites. The theatricality of it emerged through the simultaneous acts of popular culture and everyday life. Unfortunately, Las Ramblas it is not a place for our popular choreography anymore. Instead it is marked by a multitude of individuals that configure a unique large body. This multitude is formed by hundreds of tourists that perform a sole tempo and choreography. As a local citizen it is nearly impossible to improvise and apply a different tempo for your movements and change the nature of your gestures. You are forced to perform as a tourist as well: forced to be stuck and advance at their rhythm as if you were in the mechanic stairs of a shopping mall. Sorry tourists, it is not that I have something against each of you… it is that you are too much for us!
It is extremely sad to see how tourists govern our city, troubling mobility in our own neighbourhood. As Andrew Hewitt explained in his book Social Choreography: Ideology as Performance in Everyday Movement ideology is something embodied and practiced and now Las Ramblas are nothing else but an example of the capitalist imperative of economic growth through consumerism. What annoys me it is not the fact of having visitors in the city but their lack of knowledge or respect for our real culture; sorry guys but in Catalonia we do not dance flamenco despite it is a lovely dance (see long cues in the show offered in a local), paella is not our main dish and yes we do sleep at night so there is no fiesta for us every night. It is true that in the current economic crisis tourism seems a solution to our problems; but I am not sure that this is the only way to maintain or improve our situation. Recently, the council approved a new regulation in which allows the construction of new hotels in the old part of the city. From my point of view, the impact of it can be terrible. I do not think that the neighbourhood will be gentrified but rather there will be no neighbourhood but an amusement park adapted to visitors’ expectations with no locals living in it. The increasing number of holiday apartments, local shops closing down due to high rents and the disappearance of the actual neighbours leaving this area for other city districts are just evidences of this forthcoming decay. And perhaps when that time arrives Barcelona will not be fashionable anymore because it will have lost its original charm!
To be honest what gives me hope (although sometimes headaches) is still the poverty and problems that we have in this neighbourhood located next to Las Ramblas. Occupied flats, prostitutes, pickpockets, immigrants are keeping us strangely safe, although I do not know for how long. My is street it is not likeable yet and although I often wish it was cleaner and safer I find the implications of the touristy mass creepier. Of course, the solutions are complex but this post rather than a statement against tourism is a call for all of us to think about these questions: what are we doing with our city? What do we do when we visit other places? How can we make our wish to visit other cities sustainable? What should be the role of associations, politicians and urban planners?
Let’s choreography another sustainable future. The city will be pleased.