Attractive Cities and the Provision of Housing: the Case of Barcelona and Hong-Kong

PhD Student: Riccardo Demurtas

Tutor: Prof. Montserrat Pareja-Eastaway



Universidad de Barcelona



Local governments struggle to transform cities into attractive hubs for capital, talent and international events. Urban competitiveness has been on the agenda for decades, but the means used to achieve it have changed: from a resource-based location or infrastructure availability, cities now explore other mechanisms to become more attractive to intangible assets such as human capital or financial investment. Different recommendations have been suggested from the academia, paying attention to different aspects that should be taken into account. Among others, path dependency or the meaning of place are considered essential to develop well-grounded cities, even more than tolerance or technology.


Besides success, a key aspect to take into account in any endeavour focusing on urban attractiveness is conflict. In particular, the growing tension in the use of the city’s space and the needs of those attracted by the city’s success versus the needs of those who try to cope with their daily life in an attractive city.


Housing understood as a radical human right becomes a critical aspect in many cities but especially in those under the pressure of different demands. The understanding of housing as a commodity but also as a basic need has historically created multiple elements of tension in ‘popular’ housing markets.


The declining welfare-oriented role of the state in the provision of social housing in attractive cities has contributed to the creation of degraded living conditions and of housing emergencies such as homelessness. In turn, this generates a spiral of mutual reinforcement between housing and income inequalities within urban areas.


Our research uses the cities of Barcelona and Hong Kong as case studies. Both cities are living in a politically tense environment and have recently been stage of street protests, with citizens expressing their discontent with the local housing market. This paper aims to explore three different dimensions of housing in the two cities and the answer provided by local governments to counteract the market equilibrium. The three dimensions are chosen on the basis of three different conflicts that emerge in these cities: first, the access to housing for vulnerable households in need of public housing provision; second, the effect of the generalisation of temporary subletting agreements (i.e. AirBnB) in core areas of the city; and finally, the gentrifying process initiated after urban regeneration programmes.


Methodologically, we will consider a mix of qualitative and quantitative techniques. On the one hand, we will explore by means of available statistics, memorandums and policy documents, the housing market situation (stagnating or overheated market, vacancies, unsatisfied demand, etc) in both cities together with the design of policies to cope with housing problems. On the other, we will interview key actors in the field in the two cities.