Amsterdam aims to restore identity as Prague seeks cultured visitors
European cities have announced plans to curb mass tourism after the pandemic, with Prague seeking cultural visitors instead of revelers and Amsterdam seeking to “restore its true identity”.
City leaders said the empty streets caused by the Covid-19 crisis showed how over-reliant urban areas are on foreign tourists, who are already becoming a nuisance.
Prague city council member Hana Trestikova said the city wanted “more culture-oriented tourists” instead of the crowds of foreign revelers visiting the Czech capital.
“We can no longer do this to the citizens of Prague,” she said on Friday at an event organized by the Barcelona Center for International Affairs.
“We found that the city center was very vulnerable because it was focused only on tourists and not so much on locals. “
Victor Everhardt, deputy mayor of Amsterdam – a city that already has a tourist tax – said that “before the pandemic, many Amsterdam residents in the center no longer felt at home in our own city”.
The influx of tourists “caused a feeling of alienation” and led to overcrowded streets, anti-social behavior and an “unpleasant atmosphere,” he said.
Amsterdam residents “avoided certain areas” as grocery stores disappeared or struggled to survive, Mr Everhardt said.
“As Amsterdam seeks to restore its true identity, we see other cities in Europe doing the same. It’s both encouraging and inspiring, ”he said.
In Barcelona, unemployment has jumped 60% in the city’s old town during the pandemic, deputy mayor Laia Bonet said.
Half of the residents of the central district are foreigners, including low-income and “very high-income” migrant populations, she said.
“Barcelona’s old town… has essentially become a place to visit,” said Ms Bonet, who is leading the city’s 2030 Agenda for transforming the city over the next decade.
“Our city center will not be able to survive further shocks if we do not change the current economic and social model” to make the city “more livable”, she said.
André Sobczak, deputy mayor of the Nantes metropolitan region in France, said the city seized the opportunity offered by Covid-19 travel restrictions to further encourage local tourism.
“We want to have a new map that we can take to our local citizens here and invite them to see what’s going on here,” he said.
Ms Trestikova said similar efforts in the Czech Republic focused on “improving access to culture and cultural heritage in Prague”.
She said the city was working to “tell the locals that Prague has a lot to offer”.
Specific plans include improving the equivalent of the London Oyster Card, for travel on public transport, in order to “make cultural heritage more accessible to residents of Prague”.
“We need to focus on [the] interests of Prague and the local population, and make it a priority, ”she said.
Barcelona also wants residents of neighboring areas “to rediscover their own city center,” Bonet said.
But the Catalan city also plans to expand into new economic sectors, including digital and energy fields, she said.
“Cities in Europe have increasingly become service economies that have thrived on mass tourism,” she said.
“For decades, it clearly worked. It created jobs and brought money to the city.
“However, the Covid crisis and the end of global mobility have put an end to the dynamism of our city centers.
“It happened so quickly that we can only wonder if we want to get back to normal, and indeed if this normalcy was ever more than a facade.”
A city center with “people who live there, people who work there and of course people who visit us” is the goal of Barcelona’s plans, she said.
She also called for “retraining programs” so that low-skilled hotel workers can find new jobs in different industries.
Mr Everhardt, in Amsterdam, said the pandemic had “highlighted neighborhoods that have become too dependent on visitors.”
“A visitor-driven economic monoculture is not only undesirable, but is also very vulnerable,” he said.
Specific plans include more housing and green space in the city center and more space for cyclists and pedestrians, he said.
Amsterdam has placed restrictions on tourist shops, hotel developments and short-term vacation rentals in busy areas.
The city, famous for its canals and bicycles, wants “to make sure that all neighborhoods and streets are not the same,” he said.
“They all have their unique and diverse qualities – a vibe of their own, as they had before the arrival of mass tourism.”