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Transient Barcelona: Tourists and global gentrifiers in the creative city

Venue: Online

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In this webinar, Mari Paz Balibrea (Birkbeck) and Agustín Cocola-Gant (University of Lisbon) will be discussing recent trends in Barcelona, a city transformed by a transient population attracted to its culturally reproduced global image. This event is co-hosted by Birkbeck's Urban Intersections Experimental Collective and the Centre for Iberian and Latin American Visual Studies. It will start with each speaker offering an initial set of reflections drawing on their disciplinary expertise (abstracts below). This will be followed by a discussion with one another as well as webinar attendees. The event will be chaired by Mara Nogueira (Birkbeck).

“Working hard for their money: Barcelona as producer of neoliberal cosmopolitan subjectivities in Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona (Dir. Woody Allen, 2008)”

Mari Paz Balibrea, Birkbeck, University of London

After its success organising the Barcelona Olympic Games of 1992, the city succeeded in establishing its global brand as defined around the service and visitor industries. This global image of Barcelona – public life, Mediterraneaness, Modernist architectural heritage – was reinforced and amplified in a myriad of cultural objects, from advertising, to film, to videogames, to pop music, contributing to sell Barcelona as a destination for tourists and seasonal accommodation. Taking Allen’s film as an example, the presentation focuses on how “the Barcelona experience” is presented as enhancing cosmopolitan subjectivities, so that the city is to be understood, not as a place of leisure, but as a place to work on herself for the visitor. The unfailingly relaxed, warm and chic Barcelona atmosphere of this film, which foreign characters inhabit for a period, is the necessary breeding ground for their identity work. What makes – some – characters happy in the end, what gives value to their Barcelona experience is presented under the guise of having become emotionally fulfilled individuals, but can be otherwise defined as having extracted from their encounters in the city the necessary tools to succeed individually in a neoliberal world. This kind of work is presented by the film as only being possible in Barcelona, and not in New York, the global capital that the protagonists come from, which in turn justifies and reinforces the geopolitical role and economic place at the service of which the Barcelona brand was created.



"Tourism mobilities, transnational gentrification and platform rental markets"

Agustín Cocola-Gant, University of Lisbon

 The presentation will connect two processes affecting the city of Barcelona. First, I will discuss the concept of tourism mobilities, and using demographic data from 1998 to 2017, I will show how tourist neighbourhoods are attractive for flows of young transnational people who settle for a short period of time and thus form a transient population. The relationship between tourism and gentrification goes beyond the impacts of Airbnb and an alleged antagonism between tourists and residents. Gentrifiers are privileged migrants attracted by leisure opportunities and who consume urban experiences that collide with the daily needs of a more permanent and local population, which ends up being displaced. Second, I will discuss how during the current Covid-19 pandemic the short-term rental market has been restructured by professional property managers who have moved their portfolio to mid-term rental platforms. The pandemic is reinforcing the arrival of transient migrants who can work from home, and this has been paralleled by a growth of mid-term rental platforms for these populations. The current crisis and the use of digital technology for the management of short-term rentals are strengthening both transnational gentrification and the insecurity of tenancy. A global demand of transient people and platforms rental markets mean that property owners do not need tenants to obtain revenue from rental income, giving way to a neoliberal utopia that reinforce the asymmetries of power between owner and occupier.

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