AirBNB and other similar sites have become a plague upon cities. The rise of global mass tourism combined with a lack of hotel rooms and the ability of investors to buy people out of their homes and then turn them into short-term rentals has increasingly hollowed out a lot of cities, especially in Europe where a few dozen cities are now nothing more than tourist draws. You don’t have a city long-term under these circumstances. You have a museum. With the collapse of the tourist trade due to COVID-19, it has given some of these cities the chance to reset. Two examples. First, from the mayor of Lisbon.
Lisbon has benefited enormously in recent years from the millions of tourists who throng our cobbled streets and enjoy our world-famous restaurants and bars, but we’ve paid a social price.
Essential workers and their families have increasingly been forced out as Airbnb-style holiday rentals have taken over a third of Lisbon’s city centre properties, pushing up rental prices, hollowing out communities and threatening its unique character.
Now we want to bring the people who are Lisbon’s lifeblood back to the centre of the city as we make it greener, more sustainable and ultimately, a better place to both live and visit.
Prioritising affordable housing for the hospital staff, transport workers, teachers and thousands of others who provide our essential services is possible. We’re offering to pay landlords to turn thousands of short-term lets into “safe rent” homes for key workers.
It’s a bold strategy that offers landlords long-term, stable incomes and gives us the chance to recreate a more vibrant, healthier and equitable city.
From Melbourne to Paris, the tide is turning against urban sprawl and back to revitalised city centres where residents can reach key services, like doctors, schools and shops all within a 20-minute walk.
With many more people likely to be permanently working from home, it makes sense for more Lisboetas to swap the suburbs for the city where they can easily access public transport, services and take advantage of festivals and concerts.
Lisbon is a wonderful city. I was there in 2008, before the tourist takeover. But my understanding is that it is totally transformed today and not really for the better. It’s a similar story for Venice, as this article explores. The problem of course is that especially for a place like Venice, the economy revolves around tourism. You don’t want people to be driven into poverty. But at the same time, having your city overrun by cruise ships to the point of having one-way walking streets because the crowds are so tight is definitely not a functional situation either. Perhaps the cost of tourism simply needs to rise, with much higher hotel taxes. And there’s no question that a lot of cities need to build more hotels, from Seattle to Barcelona, to bring down the demand for short-term rentals. These cities really need ways to rethink their tourist infrastructure and urban planning around the issue. Now is the time to do that and I wish them the best of luck.