Malaga and the risk of dying of success

Malaga is sweet. Tourism rises like foam. Numerous technology companies, with Google in the lead, have opted for the capital of Malaga as the epicenter in southern Europe. The real estate sector, including luxury, is experiencing historic moments. Nothing appears on the horizon today that can stop an unstoppable Costa del Sol. The pandemic generated doubts, but the passage of time has dissipated them based on the rain of tourists and thousands of moves to the coast. The Malaga province leads the country’s population growth in the last two years, with more than 33,000 new residents, both nationals and foreigners, many of them digital nomads who love it because they can combine teleworking with quality of life. But so much light also has its darkness, with problems that begin to undermine the patience of the people of Malaga. Can Malaga die of success?

The answer is not easy, nor has it been easy to reach this golden age. This has much to do with the great change that the capital has undergone, which in just two decades has gone from being a minor destination to a preferential one for international tourism. “It has been a sum of actions,” explains its mayor, Francisco de la Torre, from the PP, who has already been marking his lines of action with various strategic plans. That’s where culture entered, promoting that hard-won nickname as a city of museums, with the branch of the Center Pompidou as a benchmark. But the city also benefited from state public investment with the expansion of the airport, the arrival of the AVE, the construction of new highways or the cruise terminal. The tourism sector has done its part with the opening of numerous four and five star hotels. And tourists have responded by arriving en masse: in 2019 the capital broke its record —1.4 million visitors— and so did the Costa del Sol, with more than 13 million, generating a turnover of 14.4 billion euros. , a figure that the province aspires to repeat in 2022. At the moment, it is the only Andalusian province whose economic growth is expected to be above 6%, according to studies by Unicaja Banco.

De la Torre and his team have also worked to create a successful city beyond tourism. They have done so from a technological point of view, for which the role of the University of Malaga, the Andalusia Technology Park and the existence of powerful startup local. If Google, Vodafone, Citigroup or Globant have landed in Malaga, it is no coincidence. “And we must continue working along the same lines”, stresses the councilor. “The city has ambition”, confirms Ezequiel Navarro, CEO of the Premo group and president of the INNOVA IRV foundation, formed by public and private entities that seek to attract an investment of 1,500 million euros and create 3,000 highly qualified jobs in a decade . “It’s time not to die of success and scale the growth of the technology sector in an intelligent way,” says Bernardo Quintero, director of security engineering at Google, from Malaga.

Several tourists, in the surroundings of the Picasso Museum in Malaga.
Several tourists, in the surroundings of the Picasso Museum in Malaga.Garcia-Santos

Dark figures and new challenges

The brightness, the first skyscrapers or the controversial port tower hide too many dark figures. Among them, 20% unemployment, one of the lowest GDP per capita rates in all of Spain, that the province is at the bottom —in position 45 out of 52— in per capita income in the country or in life expectancy of their habitants. All this also brings new challenges. “The ideas outlined 20 or 25 years ago have brought us to this successful city, but now we have other problems that fully affect those of us who live here,” says Ángel García-Vidal, civil engineer and manager of Avanza Engineering. The specialist highlights among these drawbacks the large increase in the price of housing. If the province leads the rise in rental costs since 2015 with an average 13.7%, according to the National Institute of Statistics, in the capital they have increased by 14.7% and account for more than 30% of family income. The price of new housing grows at an average rate of between 7% and 8% per year, according to various studies.

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The great demand from abroad and from new residents is behind these figures, but one of the keys is the rapid expansion of tourist apartments. The province has doubled its number in just four years to accumulate almost 40,000, more than half of the 73,000 homes of this type in Andalusia. Of these, 7,000 are in the capital, gradually expelling the residents of the historic center. Dozens of entire blocks dedicated to tourist flats and numerous restaurants have turned the area into a giant leisure space, as residents such as Alejandro Villén, from the Old Center of Malaga neighborhood association, have been denouncing for years. The main criticisms of him are the eternal problem of noise due to the expansion of the terraces of the bars and, more recently, the uncontrollable bachelor parties, with which not even the hoteliers know what to do. The specialists see it as essential to study the carrying capacity and decide what type of tourism the province wants so as not to die of success. Overcrowding is a danger.

“We don’t want to grow any more”

Even the mayor of the capital, criticized for not reacting to the problems that tourism also generates in the city, changed his mind a few days ago and announced that the municipality is already studying how to regulate tourist apartments. “We don’t want to grow any more,” he said. “The fact is that I don’t know of any historic center that is a pleasure to walk through that is not intended primarily for residential uses,” warns García-Vidal, who already participated in the General Urban Planning Plan of Madrid in the 1990s with the challenge of attracting citizens to live in the center. The engineer believes that it is also time to commit to new infrastructures, such as the two hospitals that the Board is preparing.

While the capital begins to rethink its model and once again leads growth forecasts this year, it is also still looking to organize an event of international relevance, but for now it is the eternal candidate. It did not get the Copa América for 2024 nor was it the European Capital of Innovation in the contest held at the end of 2021. It opted for the European Medicines Agency, which was won by Amsterdam; and before it was discarded as the Cultural Capital of 2016. Now it is trying with Expo 2027 with a project based on sustainability, which the city carries as a flag, but which, on a day-to-day basis, it is difficult for it to apply. Damián Ruiz Sinoga, Professor of Physical Geography at the University of Malaga, concludes: “The city is far from having the necessary standards to be that sustainable city that they sell us. And it is more: the City Council prefers skyscrapers to a forest, as is the case in the Carretera de Cádiz area, which is the most densely populated in the Mediterranean”. Another challenge for the city of successes.

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