Reportage. Both at the central and local level, there is a strong push to reconvert cities to a tourism monoculture, directing public funds and projects towards this goal. Digital platforms are doing the rest.

The Naples paradox: residents evicted to make room for tourists

Back in April, Naples Mayor Gaetano Manfredi proudly declared: “Tourism in Naples is increasingly experiential. Architectural beauty, rich food and wine and the warmth of the people make this city attractive. We are focusing on important events in order to deseasonalize flows.”

The municipality has organized a series of meetings (“Dialogues on Housing”) for June 7, 8 and 13: the topic is the housing emergency, in which the touristification of the city also plays a role. On Wednesday afternoon, NGOs active in the city, starting with the Set Network, the Common Goods Network, Mi Riconosci, Asia – USB, the Association of PhD Students and Holders, the University Self-Organized Collective, Link, UDS and others, will march from Piazza Dante to Piazza Municipio to demand greater housing rights and fewer tourist rentals.

“We are asking the municipality and region to take immediate action,” explains Alfonso De Vito, an activist with the Right to Housing Campaign, “without passing the responsibility back to the government. We need to establish a maximum number of beds for tourists based on areas and population, and regulate the phenomenon by rooting out undeclared rentals, forcing them to file for registration and pay taxes on rentals as a commercial activity. Furthermore, we want active housing policies: instead of selling off public buildings, use them for social housing, as provided for in the Pact for Naples. All we have now is a list of applications for public housing that opened and closed in two months and which offers no solutions in a city where there are 10,000 eviction orders in force.”

Overtourism has literally engulfed the historic center of Naples, without any limitations put in place whatsoever. The phenomenon, which began in 2015, was analyzed by urban planner Alessandra Esposito in her book Le Case Degli Altri (“The Homes of Others,” ed. Editpress): “The center is far from uninhabited: housing density is very high in the neighborhoods of the ‘belly,’ among the highest in Europe. But most importantly, the neighborhoods of the center are particularly ‘young’ compared to Rome and Milan, inhabited by a population of non-homeowners: 68.7 percent of the Neapolitan area is classified by ISTAT as ‘popular areas with young renter households.’“

These are households with high levels of socioeconomic hardship, school abandonment and unemployment: “The peculiarity [of Naples], compared to other cities, is that it arrived in the 21st century with widespread poverty not only in the wider metropolitan area, but also in the most central neighborhoods.”

The privatization of the Capodichino Airport management company, high-speed rail and large cruise ships have generated an increasing flow of tourists, fueling the demand for beds in working-class neighborhoods, right next to the entrances to the city center. In the years of Mayor de Magistris, the narrative of the “rebel city” came together with the one set out by the Strategic Tourism Plan: “The goal is to transform it into a tourist destination, adopting a market perspective. Identity must be safeguarded and at the same time exploited for the construction of the Naples destination-product.”

In 2018, Esposito recalls, the MIBACT Culture and Tourism Plan emphasized the same direction: “The revival of competitiveness and economic and employment growth in the South, starting with ‘identity factors’ that would increase its tourist-cultural offer.”

The plans for the Rione Sanità neighborhood are an example of what this looks like in practice: “It will not be connected to the rest of the urban fabric or made easier to cross, but simply connected to the airport in a more direct way.”

Both at the central and local level, there is a strong push to reconvert cities to a tourism monoculture, directing public funds and projects towards this goal. Digital platforms are doing the rest.

“The growth of online tourist rentals is dizzying: listings increased by 551 percent between 2015 and the beginning of 2020,” Esposito writes. “In 2015, less than 2,000 rental accommodations were offered on Airbnb in downtown Naples, of which about 50 percent were offered as whole apartments. At that time, 69% of the offer was managed by hosts with only one listing. In 2019, the supply is close to 9,000 accommodations during the Christmas holidays, more than half of which turn out to be whole apartments in the historic center. The most affected areas are those that fall within the UNESCO zone.”

This March, there were 8,088 listings on Airbnb alone, 5,268 for whole apartments, most of them in downtown areas with the greatest levels of socioeconomic hardship and density of renters.

Underpaid and often undeclared work, residents kicked out of neighborhoods, pressure on public services whose costs fall on residents, liberalization and skyrocketing of rents: this is the other face of tourism, which public administrations are covering up under the narrative of the “touristic vocation” of the city.

Esposito concludes: “The notion of ‘vocations’ is a rhetorical device that often ends up naturalizing monocultures, that is, the exploitation of resources for a single purpose – which can be the cultivation of a single crop or the reconversion of places into tourist amusement parks.”

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!