In 2007, Ada Colau put on a black leotard, a yellow cape, and a Zorro mask and gate-crashed a campaign rally in Barcelona. For two and a half minutes, Colau commandeered cameras, holding up a cardboard sign—“Housing Out of the Market, Like Education and Health”—while she delivered a speech on irresponsible development. “We don’t want to hear that the solution is to build more,” Colau told the crowd gathered in the small city square. “We have devastated our territory more than enough. There are a lot of houses. What we need is that these houses fulfill their social role.” When she was done, she dashed between a pair of parked cars and sprinted down the street.
She didn’t know it then, but her appearance as a superhero was one of the first steps on a path to city hall. In June she was elected mayor of Barcelona, with the support of a coalition of leftist political parties. She campaigned on fighting inequality
. . . .
Colau sees parallels between housing and tourism; she worries the latter’s growth is hurting citizens and has declared a one-year ban on new hotel licenses. She has angered the Spanish government by removing a bust of former King Juan Carlos from city hall’s main chamber; announced her intention to rein in Airbnb; and taken aim at banks, threatening to fine those that keep their properties empty, rather than rent them out at subsidized rates.“As mayor, I can talk to the banks on a more equal footing than I could when I was just a citizen,” she says.
“There’s a wide consensus to say, ‘Guys, we need these houses, not to speculate but for the families that need them. First we will offer you the opportunity to collaborate and lend us these houses that you’re not using and that aren’t going onto the market. We’ll improve them and put them to use. And if you don’t want to collaborate, we’ll try other instruments to give you an incentive.’ ”Still More . . .