Community spirit in the face of Covid-19 helps Barcelona win top spot in Time Out ranking of world’s coolest neighbourhoods

barcelona esquerra eixample district
A patio in Barcelona’s Esquerra de l’Eixample district, coolest neighbourhood in the world 2020 Time Out

The left side of Barcelona’s Eixample district has been voted the coolest neighbourhood in the world by a survey of Time Out readers ranking places for fun, food, culture, and this year especially, community. It shows that Barcelona hasn’t lost its international appeal as it struggles with Covid-19, pushback against tourism, and a disruptive new housing law.

The Esquerra de l’Eixample, as the left side of Barcelona’s gridlike newtown Ensanche district is called in Catalan, was voted the coolest city district in the world by TimeOut readers in part because of its social solidarity in an year when the Coronavirus Covid-19 is creating distress and havoc all over the globe.

“Right now, more than ever, it’s cool to be kind,” explains the TimeOut introduction to the ‘40 coolest neighbourhoods in the world’, before going to say that top-ranking places this year “are the areas where people, community and businesses have helped each other through shared tribulations: places that represent the soul of the city.”

Although a sense of social solidarity or community is given more weight than usual in the TimeOut ranking this year, traditional criteria are still taken into account. “2020’s coolest neighbourhoods are still the ones with a fascinating mixture of people, innovative and inclusive food, drink, arts and culture, affordable rents and living costs, and that hard-to-define buzz that draws people from across the globe,” explain TimeOut.

In Barcelona’s Eixample Esquerra, whose layout is characterised by geometric form, the interior courtyards of city blocks became “focal points for the city’s energy – as in the pop-up Hidrogel Sessions – in which residents dressed up in costumes and organised mass dance parties from their balconies,” writes Borja Duñó for Time Out Barcelona.

“Demonstrations of humanity”

“Meanwhile, a local Mutual Support Network was created to help the most vulnerable, and Ada Parellada from the well-known Semproniana restaurant started cooking for health workers. These are just a few demonstrations of the humanity shared by an authentic Barcelona neighbourhood – one which was a pioneer in providing space for LGBTQ+ businesses (thus earning its nickname of the ‘Gayxample’).” 

(Not far away, on the right side of the Eixample, I was unaware of this explosion of solidarity on the left. I was too busy homeschooling my kids, coughing my guts out with Covid-19, and writing the occasional article to try and keep my gentle readers engaged.) 😉

What conclusion does Duñó from Time Out draw from all of this? That Barcelona is better off with fewer tourists, it seems. “This year of all years, it’s the Esquerra de l’Eixample that points the way toward a future Barcelona where locals, not tourists, rule the roost,” he writes. 

I also prefer Barcelona without hordes of tourists, but I know it must come at a heavy price in terms of lost livelihoods and income. What with Covid-19, and the lack of tourists, on top of bad government, I fear that many of those funky shops and restaurants that add so much character to Barcelona will close. Let’s hope there’s enough solidarity around to keep everyone happy, and not just in the Esquerra de l’Eixample.

For now, Barcelona still has enough appeal to bag the top spot in an international ranking, which is encouraging. Less encouraging is a disruptive new housing law that will destroy investor-confidence in the city’s housing market before it is eventually ditched. Thanks to Covid-19 and bad government, I expect Barcelona’s housing market to flounder for the time being, with rents and prices on the slide. That said, it might be a good opportunity for lifestyle buyers with an appetite for risk who are not too fussed about the investment angle over the next few years, just like it turned out to be a decade ago. Like many things in life, it all depends on your perspective.

For anyone looking to buy a flat in the Esquerra de l’Eixample, a friend of mine has one for sale in the heart of the district, which can now lay claim to the title of coolest neighbourhood in the world If you are interested contact local estate agent Max Ricart and ask about flats for sale on Calle Mallorca. A few pics below.

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