The 2018 census, published earlier this year, draws two Spains. One, strong, has seen its population grow in most of its cities and large towns in the last decade. But, another one, in decline, ends these years with population losses in the majority of localities, also in many large ones. Spain, which is not bathed by the sea, except Madrid, has left a quarter of a million inhabitants by the road from January 2008 to January 2018.
The melancholy by the decadence of its locality is no longer an exclusive patrimony of the last neighbors of small towns. The depopulation has already reached the capitals of the region, including many in the interior of Spain.
Already exhausted fishing grounds of inhabitants who came to them from the villages and who no longer give of themselves, the capitals of the interior can not stand the blow of the macro-cities.
The demographic decline of important populations is particularly noticeable in provinces such as those of Asturias, Jaén or Albacete. There, from 2008 to 2018, nine of its ten largest municipalities have lost inhabitants. In five provinces of Castilla y León (Ávila, Burgos, Soria, Teruel Y Zamora), eight of the ten largest localities have also declined in that decade.
Faced with that reality, Madrid, Barcelona and, although unevenly, the mediterranean coast they reveal themselves as great poles of attraction that extend their reach further and further away from their traditional zones of influence. The ten largest municipalities of Barcelona and Almeria have grown since 2008. The same happens in the nine largest of the coastal provinces of Gipuzkoa, Huelva, Malaga or Las Palmas, and only in an indoor one, Guadalajara, which benefits from its proximity to Madrid.
The government commissioner for that strategy, Isaura Leal, he appreciates a "very intense" wave of population movement, as it happened in the sixties with the rural exodus due to the work of the towns in Madrid. "Most people who move seek better living conditions, equal opportunities and employment," describes the expert.
"You always think of rural decline, but if you look at many of these intermediate cities, you see how their population declines in a similar way to rural areas," says Diego Ramiro, head of the Population Department of the Institute of Economics , Geography and Demography (CSIC). "The first thing that demographers detected was the rural depopulation, but the next ones to fall are the intermediate cities, old county centers, then the turn comes to the medium-sized cities," the expert advances.
"The first thing we saw was the rural depopulation, but the next to fall are the intermediate cities, old county centers. Then it will be the turn to medium-sized cities "
What do these depleted cities have in common, beyond seeing their collective self-esteem suffer? Although neither the intensity with which they decrease nor why they are the same in each case, they usually share a recipe that includes three demographic ingredients. First: a low fertility, because the young people who leave take away the children they have already had (and each time they are less) and because it will already be outside where the children are born. Second: an increase in mortality, because those who stay are the oldest. Third: the exit of immigrants who lived in these localities, of more fertile half and that, without ties to any terroir, more prone to change residence than their Spanish neighbors.
The headwaters of the county and provincial capitals were involuntary allies against rural depopulation. They retained population: the demographic tear was appeased by the metropolitan crowns that were born around the cities at the risk of the construction bubble. But that is no longer happening in provinces like those of Burgos, Palencia, León, Jaén, Zamora or Salamanca, in which the population of the capital, its area and its province go down: "The capital of Salamanca began to lose population because people bought house, cheaper, in the surroundings." That crown grew for a few years, but Now people are leaving, and it is already outside the province, "says José Ignacio Plaza, professor of the University of Salamanca, an expert in geographic analysis. In many other cases, the loss of capital stock as Cádiz, Vigo or Pomegranate it continues to coexist with the rise of inhabitants of its metropolitan areas. They are mainly the metropolitan areas of large cities, such as Madrid or Barcelona, which have driven several of their municipalities to grow above 50% in just ten years.
Loss of aura
With the departure of inhabitants an aura also vanishes: the ability to convey that a city is a good place to live and prosper. It also means losing investment, infrastructure and political representation (for example, the number of town councilors). The neighborhoods empty and get old. They close trades and there are more empty houses. "Social slackness and urban dynamics are provoked, although everything depends on each case, which contributes to creating a depressing, regressive landscape," illustrates Plaza. Even the perception of prosperity of a site is artificially altered: "When we are told that these small cities have a development index equal to or greater than years ago, we do not realize that this is only because now those that are left are less to share" .
The roads and the obligation to travel far have been part of the rest: "More and more people of productive age are willing to do kilometers and kilometers to go to work, and that is affecting the small cities that are close to other medium and great ", points the professor emeritus of the University of Léon Lorenzo López Trigal. Many localities in the interior lived a peak population from the forties to the sixties, then stagnated and then began to lose population. López Trigal has studied the case of Astorga (León), which has already lost one of every ten registered voters of those who had in when the new century arrived, without possible competition with the nearby León or the more remote Ponferrada, who now also see how their urban areas lose population.
"The cities will compete with each other to see how to attract more people"
"Astorga is no longer reaching people from the old area of influence, they go to León, Madrid or abroad," says López Trigal, who keeps a reflection on the case of smaller towns, such as Puebla de Sanabria (Zamora), all a county seat with its little more than 1,400 inhabitants, but that have not stopped falling in recent years. "When not only decreases the population of the region, but also the head, we are in the final cycle of the demographic loss, if a center of attraction and functionality, of commerce and services, is lost, the entire territory collapses", aims In these small cities go hand in hand the decline of population and the typical functions of a city: trade, services or cultural life.
López Trigal calculates that a third of the population between 25 and 40 years of interior Spain has emigrated outside that large area of geography, especially to large cities ("Madrid and to a much lesser extent Barcelona") or abroad.
"The cities have lost the attractiveness they had, which was never much, but at least they captured labor for construction and to serve public services, such as health or universities," describes for the case of Extremadura Antonio Pérez Díaz, professor of regional geographic analysis of the University of Extremadura. Except for the capital, Mérida, and the most populated city, Badajoz, the other 11 municipalities that exceed 10,000 inhabitants are in clear recession. In nine of those cities in Extremadura, more people leave than they arrive. The perspectives do not leave any hope for the coming years either. The Statistical Institute of Extremadura anticipates that Cáceres or the Tierra de Barros region will lose population and the one that remains will be older. The Institute it is one of the rare demographic entities that dares to make prospective of a territory inferior to the province, because the population is subject to conjunctural changes that alter accounts for many years.
More and more municipalities are almost empty
The Catalan political crisis is not the only one that questions the structure of the State. The nineteenth division into provinces and the creation of the autonomies from the late seventies and the first eighties left unattended, agree several experts, the intermediate scale, that of the interior territories. "It should have articulated the territory in a functional way, to meet the needs of the population that was distributed in those areas, and has not been done," says Jose Ignacio Square. "These regional centers should have served the basic services: education, health, social services, so that not everything was concentrated in the provincial capital or the autonomic." Joaquín Recaño, demographer of the Center for Demographic Studies in Barcelona, it is urgent to tackle a tricky question: there are too many municipalities: "There are many that are unviable from the demographic point of view, but, at the same time, we have to think about the people who live in those places and in the services that are available. what to lend them. "
The interactive maps that illustrate this report give an account of the territorial imbalance in Spain. 7.5 million inhabitants live in six large municipalities, while 1,355 of the smallest account for just 75,000 people. In other words: in 16% of the municipalities, those that do not reach 100 inhabitants, live only 0.2% of the population of Spain. Julián Mora, doctor in sociology and territorial planning, describes the country as "a great demographic desert between mountains and cereal plains or plains, and dotted with oases of relative strength, the cities, from the 249 small ones (cities between 20,000 and 100,000 inhabitants) to the 16 large cities (over 250,000) of which only six exceed half a million ".
Fertility even lower
An imaginary diagonal crosses the map of Spain from the Pyrenees to Huelva through Madrid. It is drawn by Professor Joaquín Recaño. From the line to the north and west, fertility is "very low". "In some places it is already below the child per woman, as in Galicia, Asturias and Castilla-León.The minimum rate to ensure the replacement of one generation by the next is 2.1 children per woman, the Spanish average is around 1.3.
On the other side of the line, towards the east and the south, the situation is different. Fertility remains low, but not so much, encouraged at certain points by the good economic situation. "In some moments prior to the crisis fertility was higher in Catalonia than in Andalusia," describes the expert, who gives as an example of a fertile site Sant Cugat del Vallès (Barcelona), a municipality of 90,000 inhabitants that has grown a spectacular 72% since the year 2000, and that enjoys one of the highest income levels in Spain. "It's a place where families who want to have children want to live," Joaquín Recaño concludes.
The crisis of 2008 hit full fertility, but that economic debacle has added another, demographic: not only less children are born, but that there are fewer and fewer women of age. "In the last ten years we have seen how the number of women of childbearing age has receded, those born since the early sixties in the mid-seventies[alargepopulationgroupofthegenerationof[ungrupodepoblaciónnumerosodelageneracióndelbaby boom] It is already out of their fertile ages in most cases, "says Recaño.Despite the economic recovery and a slight rise in fertility, the current low wages They delay the decision to form a partner and have children.
In addition, until the crisis arrived, small cities had benefited from immigration in the demographic balance, but it was much reduced when the opportunities ended. "We also see that in many places more Spaniards are being lost than foreigners, for the simple reason that the remaining Spaniards are older and die," says Recaño. The Spaniards are not only of average more majors, but they change of residence less than the foreigners. Spain and Italy are at the lowest levels of mobility across the continent, although labor increased last year. "Immigrants have fixed the patches mobility: are those who move to occupy the niches that are left in agriculture, in the hospitality industry and the care of the elderly, "describes the researcher, an expert in this specific area of demography. one in four changes of residence that there was in Spain between 2001 and 2005.
"The hypermobility of the foreign population is what has maintained the flows between autonomous communities, not the old interregional ones [por ejemplo, de regiones del sur al norte y noreste], that are in the doldrums. "Outside of this dynamic, the only" interesting "flow of internal emigration within Spain, according to Recaño, is that of young university students from the interior to the cities.
Spain prepares a National Strategy against the Demographic Challenge that will be presented, if the announcement is fulfilled, next spring. The commissioner, Isaura Leal, believes that we must consolidate the strengths of these medium-sized cities, whether they lose or not. "We must provide them with opportunities, which are for the entire territory of their area of incidence, as well as good basic services and equal opportunities, so that the rights of citizens are effective, not only nominal, for all, no matter where they live. " In this objective, he points out, the participation of all administrations, the EU, and also of the private sector will be necessary. Fix population is also important to avoid, consider responsible, the excessive concentration of population in a few points. "The great megalopolises generate a huge gap of inequality and social and economic tension."
"Small cities are not being studied very much." There is no definition in Spain and that makes analysis difficult, points out Dolores Sánchez Aguilera, president of the Geography of Population group of the Association of Spanish Geographers. "To consider a city or not a city depends a lot on the area: a small city in the same the interior of Catalonia or in the province of Burgos, where a city could be considered as such with a very small number of inhabitants, than a municipality with more inhabitants in a metropolitan environment. A unique definition is missing because what makes a city meaning are functions, services, commerce ... ". Sánchez Aguilera gives the example of large populations in the metropolitan environment. "You can have a municipality with enough inhabitants but with a mere residential function (dormitory), while in the province of Teruel or in Castilla y León Municipalities with very little population, have urban functions, because they are the headwaters of their environment. It should not be equated. "
Strict localization is not, say experts consulted, a panacea. "It's not so much about recovering the old counties but models more adapted to the current reality of the territory and how it is organized ", José Ignacio Plaza's adventure, Communities such as Aragón and Catalonia have a regionalization model, and in Galicia it is pending to be put into operation." There is no need to create an added level of Administration, with more expenses, but to establish subprovincial units. In many provinces there is an excessive concentration of activity in the provincial capital. "
Scotland, positive example
Many in unpopulated Spain look with envy at the rare case of the Scottish Highlands. Investments sustained for decades in housing, tax benefits, repopulation policies, good Internet connectivity and a commitment to tourism are some of the measures applied so that the remote region recovers population for the joy of its own and encouragement for strangers, such as politicians and businessmen from communities that lose people. Those of Teruel or Cuenca sent a delegation to Scotland to know their good practices. The demographic growth in the area has doubled that of Scotland from 1996 to 2016. One of the cities hardest hit by the population decline in the past, the northern Inverness, has gone from about 47,000 in 2000 to about 64,000 in 2016.
In Spain there is no reason to think about this relief in the medium term. "The general trend of the demographic structure is negative, the only thing that could help is immigration, but on a planetary scale, we are already seeing it, they are not good times for mobility," says Joaquín Recaño. From the CSIC, the director of the Department of Population Studies, Diego Ramiro Fariñas, advances an unprecedented panorama today: "The cities will compete with each other to see how to attract more people".