September 27, 2021 11:54 am
Ten people live in Ester’s apartment: three families in three rooms. One consists of a young mother of Cuban descent and her ten-month-old son. Another from an elderly woman who supports her daughters on a social pension. And the third from Ester and her two boys, a student and an apprentice hairdresser. Until three years ago they lived in a house in the center of Naples but without a rental contract: when the owner decided to transform the house into a bed & breakfast, Ester and her children were only able to pack their bags.
Around the same time as the eviction, Ester also lost her job, because the food wholesaler she worked with suddenly reduced her workload and salary, and fired her when she threatened to go to a union. Without home or work, Ester could no longer bear the cost of renting a house in the center of the city, the place where she was born and raised and where – like her children – she has roots but no prospects. So there was nothing left but to occupy.
Today Ester and her family live in Cross, a building in the Arenella district – a residential area not far from the center – occupied by about forty people including families in a state of economic hardship, single mothers, precarious workers and activists in the struggle for housing. At the time of occupation, the structure was abandoned, after an attempt at speculation passed first for a controversial building in derogation of the master plan and then for a loan of eight million euros granted by the banks to a company with a share capital of only ten thousand euros. . “In recent years, many people have left the city center due to the tourism boom. Someone moved to cheaper suburbs, someone got help from their family, someone got occupied. The rankings of the municipality of Naples for public housing have been blocked for years and the support for those who experience these problems is non-existent ”, explains Ester.
But it is not only people in economic and working difficulties, or those in a housing emergency, who leave the historic center of Naples, where in the last ten years tourist flows never recorded before have arrived and which have changed its physiognomy and habits. of life.
A “gentrification from below”
Luigi Romano is a lawyer from Benevento who has lived continuously in the San Lorenzo district since 2006 – within the urban perimeter that is a Unesco heritage site. “In the last five or six years”, he says, “the urban conformation of the center has changed a lot. The historic businesses, starting with the cinemas or bookstores near the university, have been replaced by bars, take-away food outlets, small nightclubs; and the lifestyle, the daily dynamics have also changed: today living in the Decumani, in the Spanish Quarters or near areas such as Piazza Bellini or Piazza del Gesù is very demanding, not only from an economic point of view. At certain times of the year, even moving becomes a business. The number of people crossing the streets day and night is enormous, and the city has not equipped itself to manage it: I am thinking of the shortcomings in local transport, the absence of an alternative public cultural proposal to a nightlife based on the compulsive consumption of food. and alcohol, with all the consequences that this entails in terms of social and liveability of the territory. The result is that many of us have fled ”.
Between 2000 and 2020 the presences registered by the accommodation facilities increased from 1.1 million to four million. At a certain point, those who own a second home in the center of Naples discovered how convenient and profitable it was to convert it into an accommodation business, to the detriment of the long-term rental contract. The transformation of hundreds of properties into holiday homes has removed an increasing number of residential properties from the market, increasing the cost of rents for those that have remained free (the data of the Southern Europe network in the face of tourism (Set) speak of only 10 per cent between 2018 and 2019). As if that weren’t enough, the municipality of Naples has been carrying out an impressive plan to dispose of the historic housing stock since 2013: faced with a shortage of housing and increasingly high rents, those who cannot afford to pay them can only move to the suburbs or to the neighboring municipalities.
“The historic center and the Spanish Quarters”, explains Marcello Anselmo, historian and editor of Napoli Monitor, “have been affected in recent years by a phenomenon of ‘gentrification from below’, for which on the one hand the inhabitants have been able to obtain an income from ” opening of trattorias, restaurants, bars and bed & breakfasts, as owners-managers or as employees, very often illegally; on the other hand, however, the municipality of Naples has been totally unable to control this flywheel of development, so there has been a process of expulsion not only of the historically weaker sections of the population, but also of students, off-site workers, young people professionals or other subjects who by choice or by necessity lived in sharing. With the pandemic, then, the tourist flows suddenly stopped. Now small investors are lowering rents, but at the same time those who work earn less and cannot afford to pay. The data of the last few months is the emergence of the very large real estate property, which entails a high speculative risk and potentially even more savage and exclusive urban transformation phenomena ”.
Politics is watching
From a political point of view, in the ten years of de Magistris administration the tourism boom has been a decisive element of propaganda, while the problems related to it have been put in a corner, starting with the transformation of entire city areas, rethought the benefit of a hit-and-run tourism capable of selling as historic trattorias born a few months ago, or as “authentic experiences”, stays in the unhealthy lowlands of popular neighborhoods. Today, with a socio-economic and productive context tested by the effects of the pandemic, with very high unemployment rates and equally high rates of irregular work, it seems that the mistakes of the past have not served as a lesson.
The four most important candidates in the municipal elections of 3 and 4 October (the favorite, i.e. the former minister and rector Gaetano Manfredi; the prosecutor Catello Maresca; the former mayor and governor Antonio Bassolino; the plenipotentiary councilor Alessandra Clemente) continue to focus on tourism as the main growth sector for the economy, carefully avoiding the issues of housing emergency and tourism, in contrast to other European realities such as London, Amsterdam or Paris, where the issue has created a debate and led to measures capable at least of putting limits on the spread of the phenomenon.
No candidate has put forward ideas on the real open issues in the city: home, work, public spaces, suburbs, transport
“The tourism of the city center as we have known it in recent years is a huge issue, also because it has among its effects the accentuation of inequalities, it does not translate into stable and guaranteed job opportunities, it aggravates the emergency housing ”, explains Angelo Leone, inhabitant of the historic center, researcher and activist of the Mensa Occupata, a social center born in 2012 in an abandoned former refectory owned by the university.
“In general, during this electoral campaign, all the requests coming from below seem mortified, after years in which the issue of citizen participation has proved to be a huge failed promise”, continues Leone. “No candidate has put forward ideas on the real open issues in the city: from home to work, through the planning and management of urban space, city welfare, transport, the development of suburbs and former industrial areas. The common obsession seems to be that of security, which in the absence of policies for the marginal population becomes something more like social control”.
The protest of independent booksellers
Between piazza del Gesù, via Nilo and Santa Chiara, the most important streets of the historic center, there are four independent bookstores that for some years have networked creating the sign Lire – Independent bookstores in relation. On 22 September the booksellers organized an assembly in the square that ended up attracting almost two hundred people: the initiative was born after discovering that the municipality had increased the tax for the occupation of public land for a small space in Piazza del Gesù, from 32 to 140 euros, a prohibitive figure for organizing book presentations on the street, as Lire has been doing for a year and a half: “Being in the squares”, says the bookseller Cecilia Arcidiacono, “comparing ourselves with readers, means looking for opportunities to meet beyond the bookshop, but also to extend to the street what is already happening in our spaces, where books are a pretext to open windows on reality “.
The appeal launched by the small bookstores has become a call for all the people who in recent years have witnessed with intolerance the transformation of the streets of the center, so much so that one of the most convincing proposals was the creation of a “collective observatory” to monitor and tell what happens day after day. “While almost 150 euros are asked to present a book in the square for two hours”, the booksellers explain, “the public space continues to be filled with tables and umbrellas, since bars and restaurants have been granted a derogation that exempts them from paying for the occupation of public land. The right to be in the streets, in short, belongs only to those who consume ”.
Even if the case raised by the bookstores made noise, none of the candidates decided to participate in the assembly, nor to expose themselves publicly on the issue, the same attitude held throughout the election campaign every time it came to reflect on the most delicate or on an overall idea of the city. Prospects probably irreconcilable with an electoral round that saw the parties in enormous difficulty, with seven candidates for mayor, about twenty “civic” lists and more than 1,500 candidates for the city council battling for a handful of votes. Yet it is a decisive moment for the city, coming out of a long phase of austerity and with the bogey of disruption around the corner, after ten years flew away between some light and many shadows.