Monday, March 4

The concrete skeletons of the Canary Islands: when corruption becomes part of the landscape

The traces of corruption have become part of the landscape of the Canary Islands. The skeletons of large tourist complexes that were illegal occupy large areas in several municipalities of the Islands. Walking through Costa Teguise, one of the towns converted into tourist paradises in Lanzarote, you can identify at least three abandoned establishments that were intended to be large hotels and apartment complexes. The constant flow of visitors and the crystal clear water beaches that characterize this enclave contrast with these gray tomes.

From the port of Fonsalía to the La Tejita hotel, the paralyzed luxury macro-projects in Tenerife due to citizen mobilization

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Their licenses were illegally granted in 1999 by the former mayor of the municipality of Teguise and former regional deputy of the Canarian Coalition Juan Pedro Hernández. The remains of these constructions have been standing for so many years that they even go unnoticed by those who walk by. Only one of the hotels built with this mechanism in Costa Teguise has been demolished. It is a building with 599 seats near La Mareta, one of the residences of the Royal Family.

The demolition began in May this summer and has been fifteen years in the making. It was in 2007 when the Superior Court of Justice of the Canary Islands (TSJC) annulled the license for not adjusting to the island planning. After several requests from the Justice, the City Council agreed with the Shipowners of Puerto Rico company to tear down this skeleton. According to the government team of the municipal corporation, the collapse tasks have not entailed any cost for the public administration.

A few meters from this place, the abandoned apartments of the Club del Rey complex, with 461 beds, still stand. All these infrastructures were investigated in the so-called Yate case, one of the biggest corruption schemes in Lanzarote. A complaint filed by the former socialist councilor for Territorial Policy of the Cabildo de Lanzarote Carlos Espino began the case, which studied the massive granting of licenses in Teguise and Yaiza.

In the rest of the autonomous community, the overexploitation of the territory has also left large works underused. According to a study prepared by the Association of Spanish Geographers, between 1995 and 2016, 89.5 million euros were wasted on public works in the Archipelago. This figure only includes the La Ballena Sports Complex (12 million) and the Palace of Culture (14) in Gran Canaria, and the train projects in the north and south of Tenerife (40).

However, they are not the only ones. In La Gomera there are at least 30 closed or unfinished, according to a report titled The pufa works of La Gomera, history of 30 years of promises and mirages. Among them, a thalassotherapy center and a cheese factory. In Tenerife, the port of Granadilla is one of the most criticized constructions. Although researchers from the University of La Laguna and Leipzig called it “useless” and unnecessary, the work went ahead at a cost of 300 million euros. Added to this is the “bridge to nowhere”, a bridge located in Santa Cruz de Tenerife built without connections.

break the ecosystem

“The ground will never be the same again,” warns María Tomé, architect, urban planner and co-founder of the Civic Innovation Office. “Any type of human intervention that is carried out on the ground breaks the ecosystem. In the case of Lanzarote, the perception of this destruction is not so great because it is usually associated only with the color green. For example, to throw down a tree, but in very arid areas there are also ecosystems”, she explains.

The presence of abandoned works is not only an environmental disaster, but also an economic and social one, adds Tomé. These buildings contribute to the “broken glass” theory known in urban planning. “An abandoned space does not encourage us to take care of it, but rather we tend as a society to throw more garbage, as if they were landfills,” says the specialist. Rubble, construction waste, mountains of earth and even machinery also tend to accumulate on these lots. “Sometimes this construction waste ends up in the ravines, and with the rainwater, it ends up in the sea”, exemplifies the architect.

The new slums

Some of the skeletons of Lanzarote are inhabited. Mattresses, chairs, grocery bags and other objects can be seen from the outside of these concrete corpses. The abandonment of infrastructures brings with it the appearance of new substandard housing. “People who don’t have resources end up living there. It is not the fault of people who do not have resources, but of the great problem of access to housing linked to the creation of hotels and tourism in the Canary Islands. People are looking for a roof to live in”, details Tomé.

Currently, large infrastructures continue to be built in the territory. The commitment to this model has brought with it an important social mobilization against it that has been organized to “save the Canary Islands”. The La Tejita hotel or the port of Fonsalía in Tenerife are some examples of works paralyzed by citizen action. Currently, the Cuna del Alma tourism macroproject, which aims to create 420 luxury villas in Puertito de Adeje, is also in the spotlight.

The urban planner María Tomé makes some proposals to prevent skeletons from multiplying in the Canary Islands. “In the first place, stop understanding architecture as a way to colonize the territory and protect the soil of the Islands so that not even one centimeter is built outside,” she proposes.

Regenerating the territory and promoting citizen participation are other ideas that he puts on the table. “It’s not enough to just publish the municipal planning plans, but you have to bet on easy-to-read strategies, translate legal information so that anyone can participate and know what’s going on,” he adds. On the other hand, he aims to have dismantling plans that accompany any building, with the aim of finding mechanisms to recycle 100% of the materials after demolition.

Unsafe spaces for women

“It’s time to be raped.” On the walls of some of these half-finished hotels, you can see graffiti with insults and threatening messages for women. “Hotels of this type, industrial areas or some streets are unsafe spaces for women,” concludes María Tomé.

For a space to be safe, it must meet several requirements, according to the book feminist urbanism del Colectiu Punt 6. Some of them are visibility and the presence of signs that indicate where you can exit if something happens. The spaces must also be “vital” and encourage the meeting, the presence of people, as well as have commercial, residential, educational use, be community and favor the feeling of belonging.

“An abandoned hotel is none of this. They are tremendously insecure and there can be episodes of violence towards some people who do not fit the profile of a heterosexual, normative man with functional freedom”, emphasizes the urban planner Tomé. “Feeling fear limits us from freely moving around the city or any abandoned environment.”