“The Country Beckons Spaniards as Jobs in Cities Grow Scarce
Raphael Minder. Sept 12, 2012
VILLANUEVA DE LA VERA, Spain — A chemist by training, Silvia Barcenilla searched for a job in Madrid for almost a year. But in March, she decided to try a different approach, moving here to the village of Villanueva de la Vera, a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the west.
Within two months, she was working for a resort, the Hospedería del Silencio, which runs yoga courses and other recreation activities on onetime farmland. She signed a lease on a two-bedroom apartment for 200 euros, or about $255, a month, just a fraction of what it would cost her in Madrid. “If I had found a great job in Madrid, I would not even have thought about moving here,” she said. “But now I don’t see any obvious reason to go back.”
Ms. Barcenilla is part of a movement within Spain that has swelled to such proportions that some sociologists have dubbed it “rurbanismo,” a term invented to describe the reverse migration from city to country that has stemmed a generations-old trend that has long been the usual pattern in most advanced industrial economies.
The movement has steadily built, but it has been accelerated by Spain’s economic crisis, breathing new life and entrepreneurship into some nearly abandoned areas. “Rurbanismo started before the crisis, once the Internet took off and made it possible to work anywhere, but what the crisis is doing is making the model more attractive,” said Carles Feixa, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Lleida.
The movement is difficult to quantify, he said, partly since many of the new migrants do not bother changing their official residence. But it is clear, he said, that Spain’s cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants have recently stopped growing while villages of fewer than 1,000 are no longer shrinking.
Some of these new migrants are returning to the villages where they grew up or where earlier generations of their family lived, sometimes taking over property that had been left empty or used only for vacations.
Economic necessity is certainly not the only reason Spaniards are moving to the country. Around Villanueva, for instance, a community of artists has sprouted, from graphic designers to musicians and sculptors. Some have restored farm buildings in which tobacco and peppers used to dry.
Meanwhile, some entrepreneurs are buying up clusters of houses or entire abandoned hamlets. Three years ago, Luis Álvarez started buying houses in a hamlet in the Gredos mountain range that overlooks Villanueva, using money inherited from his family’s shoe business. The houses had been abandoned for about 60 years, forcing him to undertake some detective-style investigations to identify descendants of former owners.
For one of the dozen houses that he has so far acquired, Mr. Álvarez had to track down 15 people scattered across Spain, France and Argentina with a possible claim on the unwanted property. “It took me almost two years to follow this family trail and finalize a purchase contract,” he said.
Mr. Álvarez said his main goal was to turn the hamlet into a community of people “who share a healthy life philosophy.” He also expects the venture to prove profitable, refusing to disclose the exact location in case other buyers are attracted before he can lock in the last remaining houses there.
“Fifty years ago, a child born in a Spanish village was expected to want to move eventually to the big city,” Mr. Álvarez said. “Things are changing, and I want to be ahead of the curve.”
Via: The NY Times
Photo: Gianfranco Tripodo for The International Herald Tribune