Untold Stories

The night Madrileños took back their city

3 May 2020

Saturday 8pm, May 2, 2020 will be a moment I remember for the rest of my life as the night Madrid took back its city for the first time… in decades.

Up until March 14, when Spain went into the strictest lockdown in Europe, tourism still held an unrelenting grip over Madrid. Almost 11 million people visited the capital in the 12 months prior to lockdown – more than any other city in Spain. We were also the second-most visited country in the world, pulling in a whopping 84 million tourists nationwide.

As the last of Madrid’s tourists fled the coronavirus epicentre 50 days ago, many left post-evicted tourist apartments empty and a sudden surge of magazine-worthy listings appeared on Idealista. Shots of towels neatly folded on clothed beds and glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice placed on sun-drenched balcony tables moved from Airbnb.com to Idealista.com. Does that mean these apartments now belong to the people of Madrid again? I hope so.

The state-of-emergency moratorium on evictions continues for now, and when it’s lifted, Madrid tenants will awaken to an unrecognisable property market. Availability will soar as demand decreases, logically leading to the lowering of prices. But tenants daren’t sleep soundly in their homes just yet as vulture funds lie waiting, ready to raid a sweetshop of cheap Airbnb apartments whose owners have given up the tourism game.

A country that let tourism lead its recovery following the 2008 financial crisis, and who let tourism count for 15% of its GDP desperately needs to rethink its priorities in the process of the post-Covid-19 recovery we’re about to begin. We need to prioritise people over profit.

Last night, for the first time in not 50 days but decades, residents of Madrid owned Madrid. Locals born here, near and far flocked to Sol and Plaza Mayor, admiring the architecture and the retro Tío Pepe sign, and soaked up the madrileño hum, capturing the magical moment with selfies, just as the tourists who walked those very squares before them did. For the first time since I moved to Madrid, I was able to see my city full of only its own residents – the bustling, movable bedrock of the city I call home – and I loved it.

When tourists indeed return, I want them to see a vibrant city that locals enjoy as much as its visitors ­– where neighbours happily make space on a municipal bench for a weary outsider to sit alongside them knowing that it’s not borrowed, not stolen, but shared.

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