I took this photo today, after having run (well, climbed) to the top of one of the local hills here on Gran Canaria. According to the leaflets, this island is a miniature continent, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNSECO. My photo, though lacking the ubiquitous fishing village, is the traditional typical view of this place. But most people are not here to climb hills or meet the local fishermen and their families, are they? They are here to sunbathe, swim in pools that for some reason need to be situated right next to the ocean, play miniature golf, drink beer and take in tacky entertainment. The modern lifeblood of Gran Canaria is tourism.
And so the typical view has changed. If the image above is the old typical view from a coastal hill towards the sea, this is today’s typical view from the sea towards the same rugged, beautiful hill.
Real estate here is either left to decay or completely exploited for the good of the paying guests. The only real estate worth having starts with a key card gate fifty metres from the shoreline and ends with rusty barbed wire three metres from it. The shoreline itself is rocky and nowhere you’d want to launch granddad when he’s going for a swim. If you want to swim in the ocean, you do it on the beach that was transported here from Africa. I shit you not. Apart from that beach, if you walk on the three metres between the sea and the hotels, all you see is sea, rocks and walls with gates. Behind the walls, anything can be had as long as it you’re not looking for the real thing. Our hotel’s own miniature golf course was built on a manufactured peninsula to include a promenade, so you can take your walks without ever being out of reach from somewhere to spend your money.
The reason to spend your vacation in a gated community is of course that you ostensibly are safe and that you can get your every need looked after as long as you have the money to pay for it with. The drawback is obvious. There is ownership of everything. Communality is non-existant. There is no place for the locals except as waiters, bus drivers and what have you. By providing havens for the people that can afford it, gated communities inherently keep other people out.
Places like this are pivotal for the economic development of Gran Canaria. In fact, they are so vital that I dare say that the economic development easily takes precedence over the social and ecological sustainability of the island, and of many more places like it. The Nueva Estocolmo hotels of the world are not always minor developments that can be ignored or tolerated. Gran Canaria builds its entire future on them. This gated community luxury hotel (we have a bleedin’ Jacuzzi in our bedroom for crying out loud) IS the current and future Gran Canaria. It builds on flying people in here from northern Europe to consume resources in order to get a tan and a few stories to tell back home. That’s the only way there is going to be any economic development of Gran Canaria. Anyone that has anything to do with this kind of resort needs to deal with that.
The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is reduced to words on a leaflet advertising scuba diving, because for example the hotels form a very efficient barrier between the inlands and the sea, and the beach was flown in and manufactured. I’ve spent this week not only wondering why I accepted going in the first place, but even more so thinking about the designers and construction companies that made this environment. What is their responsibility in all this? I can only assume that the commercial reality makes their responsibility to be keeping their stock-holders happy and following the orders of the developers. But I cannot help thinking that our work has social consequences that we need to make ourselves aware of. As we participate in building up a new business that completely transforms our local environment, we have the responsibility as professionals to point these consequences out. But the commercial reality prevents us from doing anything but paying lip service to the greater good.
We know that the world cannot sustain the current levels of consumption. But our economic systems are built on ever increasing consumption. The clash is inevitable. We can expect the collapse of our economy as formulated today, or the collapse of ecology and social structures first and then of the economy. Either way, the economic system will be changed, by choice or by force. The west is already not living on products we make but serviced we do for each other (except the audiovisual industry that seems to think it’s still 1970). Let’s take this change to its logical conclusion and come up with new metrics. Or rather, let’s listen to the researchers that very likely already have done that homework. Robert Kennedy once said that we can measure anything by the growth of our gross national product, except the things that matter. Even though economic growth currently holds its position as standard metric for all activities, the sun is going down on the system that created it.