Spain, what have you done?

I could understand it in the Middle Ages. Back then, if a country had a city in its realm, it was a clear exhibition of wealth. That country had moved on from subsistence farming and could afford to support a bunch of wealthy people who desired to live in an urban environment. They were badges of financial well being, exuberantly demonstrating that each country with a major city was doing very well for itself.

What I can’t understand is the pilfering of this earth’s resources to construct one million new apartments in a place where there is no demand for them. That is what has happened in Spain over the last few years. The planning law regime combined with easily available credit has fuelled a massive construction boom, with gross over speculation. This has resulted in a country with two million empty abodes, having a further one million. Spain, what have you done? This is no longer the thirteenth century when an urban centre proved your country’s wealth and everyone marvelled at it. Three million flats are simply sitting there empty, as a testament to mankind’s greed and propensity for waste. And that’s only in one country. No wonder there has been a credit crunch. If we must spend frivolously, then surely it should be on something worthwhile. Addressing poverty for instance.

Imagine for one second our current financial predicament arose because we became too benevolent and gave too much away to help all the poor and starving in this world. Not because we built empty houses or because we were enticed into loans to fuel a level of consumerism we can’t afford. Can you imagine how less depressing this financial crisis would be? Would there have been a credit crunch? Ok, so we have spent hundreds of billions of pounds but we have gone a long way to solving poverty, disease and famine for millions. What’s even better is that the American and European Governments are going to spend at least one trillion dollars of taxpayer’s money bailing out those who gave too much away, not financial instutitons who lent money to fuel house price speculation and unsustainable construction. How nice would that be? Governments backing the benevolent and altruistic, not the greedy.

What is really going to happen though? Hopefully a tightening of credit will result in more responsible investment and expenditure programs. A focus on efficiency and sustainable building. Making the most of existing buildings and forcing people to use their resources more responsibly. Perhaps all these empty homes will actually help alleviate poverty. Cheaper homes for those who have found it so hard to buy property in the past decade would be no bad thing. Coincidentally, the figure for the number of homeless people in Europe and the amount of empty dwellings in Spain are pretty much identical. Wait! I have an idea...

James Shepherd, Cambridge (UK) student and creator of greengremlins.com.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. I'm a spanish architecture student and I'm terrified about what WE (I, as a part of this "building industry") are doing with our natural and cultural heritage.
Sad situation

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

...and the same is happening in Portugal, there are more houses than citizens. Maybe it is time to start teaching political engagement and social responsibility in architecture school?