Posts

Rents for students

Housing the student population after Covid. Inclusive recovery strategies or business as usual?

by Loris Servillo and Samantha Cenere from Politecnico di Torino

Student mobilities present interesting similarities to touristic ones, such as their relevance for urban economies and their distorting effects on the housing market. The Covid pandemic has shed light on the dependence of some cities on university students, forcing them to implement ad hoc recovery strategies.

The housing market of major European cities has been undergoing major reconfiguration processes, for which an important driver of change is the impact that mobile populations (tourists, students, temporary workers) exert on long-term residents’ access to decent and affordable housing. Albeit rarely acknowledged, in particular university students represent for many European cities a relevant segment of the market whose effect in this respect could be considered partially similar to the ones of tourists.

Two main trends of urban transformations are triggered by student housing dynamics, which eventually may produce conflicts and negative externalities for local communities. On the one hand, the role of competitors played by students in the long-term housing market. On the other, the increasing relevance played by PBSAs (Purpose Built Student Accommodation) as a major real-estate investment.

The Covid pandemic has made evident the increasing level of dependence on mobile populations (especially tourists) characterising some urban economies and it has shown the vulnerability of a housing market dominated – particularly in some cities in the global touristic circuits – by short-rental accommodations. The exceptional stop to mobilities is showing interesting process of reconfiguration as well as unexpected windows of opportunities to implement positive reforms for local residents. First, strategies that broadly addressed these two types of categories (tourists and students) are becoming sharper through market operators’ shift of attention. Short-term accommodation platforms like Airbnb have supported their clients in reconfiguring their offer toward medium-term rent while it seems most likely that students are the first mobile group that will be back in town.

Second, declared intentions of reforming the housing supply seems floating around. A recent article in the Guardian listed a series of initiatives (or rather good intentions) to take advantage of this opportunity. The case of Lisbon made headlines, due to the city’s launch of a programme aiming at converting touristic flats into affordable housing and the very strong tensions caused by tourism in the housing accessibility for local residents, even if its size of intervention was very soon downscaled.

In this frame, looking at various initiatives currently popping up in many Italian cities, another trend seems to be at work; namely, the effort to implement strategies to bring students ‘back in town’.

Indeed, many Italian cities have been working to either expand or sustain the offer of student accommodation. In Parma, an important university town, the City has launched a rent support programme for low-income students, thanks to a partnership with the Region and the University that enabled to create a dedicated fund. The Piedmont Region launched a public tender to convert tourist accommodation facilities into student halls, aiming at increasing by 260 units the offer of bed places allocated to students in need in Turin. In Bologna, a partnership between the City and the University aims at transforming tourist accommodation facilities into student halls and, in the meantime, providing financial support to low-income students. Venice has gone further, directly involving the renown short-term rental platform Airbnb in the conversion of flats formerly rent to tourists into student accommodation. Indeed, the Country Manager of Airbnb has expressed interest into the possibility of expending the company’s offer to medium-term rents. Pursuing a different path, Milan looks at the business of PBSAs to build a city attractive to students. The city’s strategy to bring back students (especially international ones) while paying attention to provide spaces that are compliant with the social distance prescriptions consists in the provision of 13 new PBSAs, for a total amount of 5,000 new bed places for students.

Venice commerce affected by Covid

Venice commerce before and after COVID

By Lucas Fernandes, Nathan Morin, Taylor Ostrum, Kavim Bhatnagar from Worcester Polytechnic Institute

This project’s mission is to provide a web-application tool that visualizes and analyzes trends in Venetian Commerce over time by organizing archival data provided by the Venice Project Center (VPC). The WPI students have deployed a platform that future collaborators will be able to iterate on to help assess Venice’s economy.

These are their main objectives:

  1. Consolidate data that was previously collected on Venetian stores
  2. Design and test a comprehensive and flexible web-application
  3. Analyze archival WPI data on Venetian commerce
  4. Plan for the future of the web application

Shop data provides an invaluable look into the bigger picture of a city’s economic status. Being the main contributors to the production of goods and services in an economy, shops can act as an economic indicator. In the case of Venice, Italy, tourism plays a big role in its economy as approximately 25% of shops cater toward tourists alone. This socially excludes local Venetians and causes a divide between them and visitors. However, for the first time in history, tourists are no longer able to visit the city due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, Venetian commerce has been greatly affected.

In order to see how Venice’s economy has been affected, it is imperative to understand and visualize its commerce history, which has been quantified for over 15 years by the VPC. Starting in 2004, eight WPI teams have collected shop data from various sestieri all over Venice, taking note of attributes such as shop names, addresses, and geographical location.

For this project, a team of VPC students worked with SMARTDEST and SerenDPT. The latter is a Venetian start-up organization in charge of the Venice case study of the SMARTDEST project. With their help, a web application was built from the ground up. This app permits to visualize the history of Venetian commerce.

In order to do this, the team found, consolidated, and cleaned eight datasets on shops. This process took all previously recorded shop records, 11,312 to be exact, and unified them into one collective dataset, which now houses all shop data ever collected by the VPC. This work was done remotely, over the course of seven weeks, with the help of their advisors, Professors Fabio Carrera and Jennifer deWinter. The dataset houses three subsets of data, “Venice Shops”, “Store Locations”, and “Venice Shops Images”. Lastly, the students also found and consolidated any and all photos of shops and stored them in our “Venice Shops Images” dataset. Once cleaned, this data was then visualized on the web application. It allows users to filter shop data by the year the data was collected, the type of shop, as well as filter shops by their target audience.

Want to know more about our project? Check our website and learn about Venetian shops on a real-time basis!

Curated by Giulia Speri

SMARTDEST updated project presentation on Open Access Government Magazine

We have published a new article presenting our project on the Open Access Government magazine.

SMARTDEST tackles arguably one of the greatest challenges for urban areas and metropolitan regions in Europe: that of becoming sites of attraction for ‘temporary’ populations.

Cities have been historically the hub of multiple mobilities. Yet, the acceleration and compression of such mobilities, a fundamental trait of our age, is posing an unprece­dented threat to urban cohesion. Cities need to ‘make space’ for an ever-increasing number of visitors, short-stayers, expats, and the work­ers, goods, vehicles, infrastructure that facilitate their arrival and dwelling; and often, this subtracts to the opportunities, affordabilities, quality of life of ‘stable’ resident populations. One such mobilities is tourism. The attraction of tourists and the development of a visitor economy has been one of the fundamental dimensions of contemporary urban development. Yet, urban communities all over Europe recently started to feel that ever-growing tourist activity is turning into a hindrance for their way of life and a serious threat for their wellbeing.

In this moment of COVID pandemic emergency, the temporary blockage of tourism mobilities worldwide has also uncovered another key aspect of the problematic relationship between cities and tourism: the extreme dependence of urban areas from the attraction of large masses of visiting consumers.

The full article is available at the following Link

Venice Tourism May Never Be the Same. It Could Be Better.

Can the pandemic be an opportunity to rethink tourism? This article published in “The New York Times” discusses the Venetian case. In particular, it reflects on how the crisis can be an opportunity to make future travel to and in cities more sustainable and to develop an economy that does not rotate entirely around tourism.

Go to the article: link

‘Things have to change’: tourism businesses look to a greener future

While tourism destinations are looking forward to exit the lockdown and receive again national and foreign tourists, it is important to look at this post-COVID situation as a possibility for cities to redesign their tourism model in a more sustainable manner, environmentally and socially.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2020/may/28/things-had-to-change-tourism-businesses-look-to-a-greener-future

What does Covid-19 mean for people working in the gig economy?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the plight of the gig economy workforce into sharp focus. Some of this workforce is now busier than ever, delivering take-away food and online shopping to communities in lockdown. Others have been left high and dry by the collapse of travel which has frozen all activity for Airbnb, ride operators and similar providers. The contractual status of gig workers is such that they do not benefit from any of the emergency schemes introduced by governments such as furloughing or support for the self-employed which is generally linked to income declared for tax purposes over an extended period. Gig economy workers are among the most precarious of the precariat and the global pandemic has brought their plight onto the agenda of the media and, hopefully, governments.

https://www.rte.ie/news/business/2020/0522/1140094-covid-19-and-its-impact-on-the-gig-economy/

COVID: tourism immobilisation and its social consequences

By Antonio Paolo Russo, University Rovira i Virgili, SMARTDEST coordinator
May 2020

The SMARTDEST project tackles the relation between tourism mobilities and the production of social exclusion in cities, with an ambition to contribute to the definition of a policy agenda for cities that takes tourism mobilities seriously, and that brings out the potential of social innovation from citizen engagement for more resilient communities.

While drafting the project proposal and then setting it in motion, the obvious concern of this consortium was the wide array of disruptions that are produced in a context of relentless growth of tourism activity in cities, and its increasing penetration in the citizens’ everyday. We therefore intended to situate our research in the rising debate on ‘overtourism’ and its effects, broadening its conceptual approach and empirical developments to the constellation of mobilities, communities and spaces that are enmeshed to contemporary travel and tourism in complex ways.

Yet, alas, in the verge of a few weeks the context we are studying has changed radically, in ways that could not be remotely imagined before.

The current COVID-19 pandemic, the subsequent measures of confinement to which a substantial part of the world population is subject, the temporary restructuring of work and family routines, and the foreseeable economic slump which will follow from the shock by ‘immobilisation’ of the global economy, present us with a very different future scenario than that of overcrowded streets, low-paid hotel workers and vulnerable families evicted to make space for short-term tourism rentals.

Today, the great societal (and academic) debate in relation to mobilities is whether we will ever go ‘back to normal’, if tourism as we knew it has a future, how to contain the social costs of this slump, and whether it is possible to effect a rapid transition towards ‘slower’, less mobility-dependent forms of economic and social organisation which are more resilient to the uncertain future that comes ahead. For the EU, this may mean that the policy concern for overtourism that had taken foot in the past years is likely to be rapidly overcome by the imperative of economic recovery.

Project to throw in the dustbin? Bad luck? Give back the EU money?

By all means, no. There are at least two main reasons why we consider that actually our research approach is the most adequate to tackle these questions, and offer a sound scientific contribution to the stage of recovery or adaptation to this new scenario.

The first reason stands in our epistemological approach. Moving from the baseline of the ‘mobilities paradigm’, and examining the relationships between tourism-induced urban transformations and the production of social exclusion from this position, allows us not just to analyse the pressure of the visitor economy and its social effects, but to engage with a much more ambitious program of research that takes in and connects:

  • human mobility as an expression of democratic freedom, and leisure as a dimension of urban life that is inextricable from many others;
  • the multiple and multiscale interconnections between the different manifestations of human mobility (e.g. tourism, migrations, commuting, leisurely walk, etc) and between these and the physical spaces that these contribute to produce and contest;
  • the juxtaposition and interrelations of the highly mobile and the ‘less mobile’ or immobilised;
  • the agencies, socio-technological regimes, ideologies and discourses that frame such relationships and promote or mitigate social exclusion.

In other words, if tourism ­– its practices and embodiments, the multiple flows of things, technologies, money and imageries that goes with it, and the marginalisation of sizeable sectors of the society from the benefits of a thriving visitor economy – could have been the context of development of the project until January 2020, the same conceptual concerns, the same empirical developments, and the same ambitions to find informed solutions to social exclusion apply in a non- or less-tourist world.

The current scenario, with the streets of tourist cities temporarily empty, thousands at risk of losing their job, and clean air, is one in which paradoxically social breeches are reproduced and reversed – those who can, comply with the new social norms of ‘good citizen’ and stay safely at home, while others are stuck with dangerously mobile jobs, uncomfortable dwellings, and dependency from the proximity with others. Even when this confinement scenario is relaxed, a new ‘regime of post-COVID mobility’ might be fathomed in which mobilities are promoted, regulated, and reified in vastly uneven ways.

Said this, it is still important to look back and have a structured, nuanced understanding of how the acceleration of tourism and related mobilities in the pre-COVID world may have widened social breeches, and which agencies and power coalitions would have made that possible. We definitely are going to do that. However, SMARTDEST will also look into the present and the future, clarifying how the analytics of mobilities also matters in an ‘immobilised’ world.

And this is precisely our second reason to stay on the ground. Our project foresees engagement with eight case studies of European cities variously interested by tourism-related physical and socioeconomic transformations which represent key challenges for social cohesion. SMARTDEST will not only examine what has gone on in such places until now and in the coming two years, but – as its title states – also aims at contributing to solutions or forms of mitigation to social exclusion that our research will relate to the production of tourist places. In a specific work-package, it will thus convene social actors – among which affected communities, groups at risk of exclusion, grassroots movements – together with economic and political agents to collaboratively design viable strategies by which forms of coping with social exclusion, smart forms of citizen collaboration, as well as small-scale planning innovations can be rescaled to the wider domain of urban policy and may be seen as valuable and implementable within the wider destination ecosystem.

In this light, our project is going to tackle these questions precisely in the stage of recovery (2021-2022), presumably following the current state of emergency. Our case study cities will find themselves in front a ‘recovery dilemma’: going back to normal – and mobilise public and private resources to achieve the recuperation of tourism jobs and economic activity lost in 2020, from which some of them are badly dependent –, or use this breakthrough moment as an opportunity for transition towards a destination environment that is less excluding, more just, more democratic; one that promotes quality of life and shared value over sectorial economic interest, that takes the effects of mobilities (social as well as environmental) seriously, and is prepared to mitigate them.

The temptation to stick to the trodden path will be strong: this is already being hailed, not only by corporate interests but also by policymakers faced with a sudden slump of the economy and employment. However, a return to the pre-COVID conditions – that in many destinations have been at the root of social issues – may not be even an option: as mentioned before, there are high chances that global mobilities and their local manifestations will change, albeit temporarily: ranging from the rights, practicalities and cost of travelling long-haul, to the attractiveness of the most affected destinations, or the effects of physical distancing on the viability of products and attractions.

It has been demonstrated by experience that sustainability transitions focusing on mitigating the impact of tourism mobilities are difficult, as they face lock-ins and pressures of all kinds, though the present scenario may offer a unique opportunity for realignment of societal and corporate interests. Besides, it is also not totally clear what this presupposes in the policy and planning sphere, although certain elements may be envisaged as essential, such a strengthening of the regulation capacity, the dignification and upgrade of work conditions, the concern for gender and intersectional unbalances, the promotion of citizen participation and their innovation capacity, the revision of governance mechanisms. However, whose interests will dominate in the recovery debate, whose rights will be put upfront, and who will be controlling and tapping from the sociotechnical machinery of innovation in mobility, are still moot points – and key discriminants in the effort to achieve more inclusive post-COVID cities.

In this sense, being able to contribute and inform this debate, that will necessarily take place in all the cities we will be studying in our project, is a fundamental challenge for SMARTDEST. Our ambition is that CityLabs will be a key arena where the post-COVID urban future is analysed, designed and shared, and this consortium is already taking steps to make that happen.

Cycling and walking for safe spaces after lockdown in cities, a “new normality”?

by Alejandro González, GRATET-URV. May 2020

Cities are planning mobility transitions for encouraging cyclists and pedestrians to travel while respecting social distancing.

The capital of Lombardy, the region most hit by Covid-19 in Italy[1] and among the most polluted regions in Europe, plans for a climate-friendly way out of the crisis. This initiative follows other big cities like Paris[2], London[3] or Berlin[4], which are taking advantage of this global crisis in the hope of encouraging cycling and walking to transition to a “new normality” safely. As alternatives to a doctrine shock[5], policies oriented to mobility justice could provide a roadmap for other cities.

Milan[6] has announced that 35km (22 miles) of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. The City Council wants to avoid the increase of pollution in the city during the stage of recovery, in which restrictions to avoid conglomerations in public transport are going to be implemented.

An unjust mobility system may well be related with the pandemic. Intercontinental transport is noted to have directly caused a rapid and global diffusion of the virus, that has subsequently provoked its collapse[7]. But also, the high carbon automobility system may be one of the most important contributors to fatality[8]. Other estimations suggest that more lives were saved due to the reduction in air pollution than those terminated by the virus[9]. Therefore, reducing polluting cars from streets may offer more chances to combat new (corona)virus outbreaks in cities and to make them more resilient.

However, far from being a new normality, Milan was also announced the suspension of the LEZs of the city until 31st of May[10]. Allowing all vehicles to enter, to circulate on public transport preferential lanes and all parking spaces are free for all[11]. Another side of the coin, the coronavirus might have prepared scenarios for shocking and transition. Which one will impose? Will governments take from granted the social de-escalation? Will climate and health prioritise come up on top? A critical analysis is deserved during next months and years to unmask the politics of mobility justice and virus.

[1] BBC (2020 March 22) Coronavirus: Lombardía, la región más golpeada de Italia anuncia medidas más estrictas para frenar el avance del covid-19 Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-internacional-51994635
[2] Carlton, R. (2020 April 22) Paris to Create 650 Kilometers Of Post-Lockdown Cycleways. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2020/04/22/paris-to-create-650-kilometers-of-pop-up-corona-cycleways-for-post-lockdown-travel/#6652f1ae54d4
[3] Harrabin, R. (2020 April 20). Coronavirus: Banning cars made easier to aid social distancing. BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-52353942.
[4] Versti, L. (2020 March 27) Neuer temporärer Radweg am Kurfurstendamm. Berliner Morgen Post. Retrieved from https://www.morgenpost.de/bezirke/im-westen-berlins/article228794619/Neuer-temporaerer-Radweg-am-Kurfuerstendamm.html
[5] Moreno, D. (2020 April 1) Naomi Klein: “La gente habla sobre cuándo se volverá a la normalidad, pero la normalidad era la crisis”. El Salto. Retrieved from https://www.elsaltodiario.com/coronavirus/entrevista-naomi-klein-gente-habla-volver-normalidad-crisis-doctrina-shock
[6] Laker, L. (2020 April 21). Milan announces ambitious scheme to reduce car use after lockdown. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/21/milan-seeks-to-prevent-post-crisis-return-of-traffic-pollution?fbclid=IwAR0Or0kro67QH_5dkHs4ldazmkvyJtMkQTZOCjdrlqSJa_gvfAio62ICsJA
[7] Pierce, B. (2020) Covid-19: wider economic impact from air transport collapse. IATA. Retrieved from https://www.iata.org/en/iata-repository/publications/economic-reports/covid-19-wider-economic-impact-from-air-transport-collapse/
[8] Carrington, D. (2020 April 20) Air pollution may be ‘key contributor’ to Covid-19 deaths – study. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/20/air-pollution-may-be-key-contributor-to-covid-19-deaths-study
[9] McMahon, J. (2020 Mar 16) Study: Coronavirus Lockdown Likely Saved 77,000 Lives In China Just By Reducing Pollution. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2020/03/16/coronavirus-lockdown-may-have-saved-77000-lives-in-china-just-from-pollution-reduction/#2c8cf3c534fe
[10] Interview with Cittadini per l’Aira by email on 08/05/2020 by the author
[11] Idem.