Madrid is being gentrified. That isn’t news. It’s been happening in many of the city center’s most popular neighborhoods – Malasaña, Lavapiés, La Latina – for years. It’s also a process that has been rippling through most of Europe’s capital cities for quite some time now. If anything, Madrid has been a bit slow to the trend, considering it’s still far more affordable overall than most other European capitals.
Every couple months, though, a new article appears to bemoan the gentrification occurring in my barrio: Puerta del Angel. This phenomenon is such a focus of breathless conversation that the barrio even has a nickname: Bruclin, as in, Brooklyn, the trendy neighborhood on the other side of the river from the main part of the city (and the OG gentrification model).
This week, it’s 20 Minutos decrying Puerta del Angel’s gentrification (a new enough concept that the Spanish word for it is simply gentrificación), with the headline lamenting that living alone in PDA is nearly inviable. A once working-class barrio has become just another expensive, trendy neighborhood.
Living in Puerta del Angel, Madrid
I moved to Puerta del Angel with my pareja, Helen, over three years ago when she bought a flat between the two main metro stops of the barrio. We had a couple friends that already lived here before us, and since then a few more have either bought or rented places here. Even in the relatively short time we’ve lived in the barrio, there have been changes aplenty. Overall, though, no one would mistake the still mostly working-class, family-filled PDA for Malasaña (or Brooklyn’s Williamsburg).
Probably the most visible change is the transformation of the Mercado Tirso del Molina, a century-old local indoor market that has gotten the full Madrid Redux treatment. Still a place to buy fresh produce and meat, most of the stalls in the market are now stylishly unsophisticated restaurants. There’s a pizza spot, a taco spot, a vegan spot, and, yes, even a few Spanish restaurants (if you’re craving paella).
The transformation of the market started well before we arrived, but the last few years has definitely seen an acceleration, in part because of the pandemic. When being indoors became a risk, the city gave special permission to businesses that didn’t have terrace seating to create spaces in the street. With one of the calles running alongside the market now pedestrianized, the area is one of the main gathering places in the barrio (getting a weekend seat on the terrace is nearly impossible).
The mercado’s growth has spurred other development. A slightly overpriced café opened up across the street a few months ago, and a new restaurant (by the same owners as the café) opened on the opposite side of the market a couple weeks ago. Those same owners also opened a decent pizza place a bit west of the market. And then there have been a host of other bars, cafés, and restaurants popping up throughout the barrio.
When we first moved here three and a half years ago, we struggled to find open bars after 10 pm on a weeknight. Now, there’s an abundance of them, especially along Paseo de Extremadura, the main thoroughfare that runs west from the Manzanares River and serves as the northern border of the barrio (on the other side of the paseo is Casa de Campo and Lago, one of Madrid’s best parks and outdoor dining areas).
All in all, a great barrio to live in.
The Ills of Gentrification
So, yes, there is every sign that Madrid’s Puerta del Angel is gentrifying. As I’ve written about before, I find the conversation around gentrification confounding. Far too often, it seems to be a way to complain about certain people moving into a neighborhood (often white people complaining about other white people). I get it, hipsters (or whatever the term is now) are annoying. But people need to live somewhere. Does moving to a cheaper neighborhood because you can better afford the rent mean you’re a gentrifier?
An article in El Confidencial last year seemed to blame guys “with beards and skinny jeans” for the gentrification, which is just totally backwards. It’s one thing to find a home in a barrio. It’s quite another to intentionally buy up property for the purpose of jacking up the price and reselling it. And here enters the villains of Puerta del Angel.
I appreciate that 20 Minutos pointed to the true cause of gentrification: the real estate companies that vacuum up every available structure, causing rents to skyrocket and pricing out both residents and local businesses. It’s happening all over the world right now. In Puerta del Angel, that malevolent force has taken the form of a management company called Madlyn (to be fair, El Confidencial also mentioned Madlyn; both articles said they contacted Madlyn for comment to no avail).
Madlyn is buying up barrio property left and right, converting former bars and eateries into cookie cutter apartments and coworking spaces (and Madlyn offices). Simultaneously, real estate offices have been popping up like mushrooms over the last couple years (I suspect they’re all a front for one conglomerate), taking over vacated fruit shops and clothing stores. Property is big business in the barrio. They’d argue they’re just filling a need, but every time I see a new estate agent office, I get thirsty for a Molotov Cocktail.
Look, I have a beard. My pant legs are pretty narrow. I write for a living. I am a white dude who speaks English in a Spanish-speaking country. I am everything that signifies gentrification. But as with most things, by the time the outward signs of gentrification are apparent, the underlying causes are already deeply entrenched.
These articles about the gentrificación de Puerta del Angel always include an interview with a local who has lived in the neighborhood all their life and is weary of the changes. Understandably, of course, but change is inevitable. People relocating is inevitable. I’d hate to live in a world where that wasn’t an option (10 Cities is, above all else, a celebration of relocation).
And you know what? Gentrification may, in fact, be inevitable. I don’t really know.
What I do know is, Puerta del Angel is a charming barrio, both because of the recently opened, trend-hopping bars and restaurants, and for the older establishments serving 2€ beers and wines and pouring whiskey like it’s water. A relatively newer establishment like Quinta del Sordo can exist next to the neighborhood locals and the old man hangouts. We make an effort to patronize both.
And, in 10 years, I’ll lament that all the good bars I used to love have been replaced by hipster lounges that play the music too loud. Can’t wait.