“Spain: System Error” – Spanish Photographer Marc Femenia Captures The Aftermath Of Spanish Construction Bubble

Based in Stockholm, Sweden, Marc Femenia is an awarded freelance photojournalist that combines editorial work and commercial assignments with long-term documentary projects.

At the turn of the 21st century, in Spain nothing was impossible. No construction project was too large or too difficult. With vasts credits from German banks and money pouring in from generous European Union funds, visionary politicians sowed the Spanish territory with overdimensioned urban plans and yesterday’s state of the art infrastructural projects. The business was in construction; the projects’ necessity or economic viability were secondary issues all too often overlooked, if not plainly ignored.

In the peak year of 2006 Spain constructed more houses than France, Germany and Great Britain put together. Spain had Europe’s longest highway network, twice as many commercial airports as Germany, and the world’s second longest high-speed rail network. Spain was the land of gold and honey and the economic growth seemed to have no limits. The world was in awe of the “Spanish miracle”.

When reality finally caught up with Spain, in 2007, its urbanized surface had increased by a shocking 52 % in only 18 years, and its landscape was littered by a myriad of deserted infrastructural projects. Airports without passengers, highways without cars, hospitals without patients… Not to mention the two million empty houses no one wanted to move into. All built with the money of the future generations.

What was once built as proud monuments over economic success, has now become the embarrassing evidence of a political system characterized by bad planning, thoughtless investments and widespread corruption. A system where, from the local to the national level, too many important decisions are driven by self-interest and obscure political agendas instead of by the common good. A system that has plunged Spain into its worst economic crisis since the advent of democracy.

However, the political establishment does not show any signs of having learnt from their mistakes. Since 2008, Spain has been the main recipient of loans from the European Investment Bank, receiving more than €68 billion, more than half of which has been invested in new infrastructural projects. Thus, several megaprojects are already being planned throughout the territory, and despite an evident lack of demand, the highway and high-speed rail networks continue their expansion almost as if nothing had happened. All in the hope that the construction sector will once again lead the way for the Spanish economy.

In the last months, some economic indicators seem to suggest that Spain’s economy has hit rock bottom. However, with an unemployment rate of 24%, the recovery path will be anything but easy. If the Spanish people do not realize that public resources are limited, and do not learn how to demand of their leaders to manage them responsibly, Spain is doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Because these pictures do not show the consequences of the crisis, they show its causes.

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