Marbella Better Not!
(Marbella is pronounced marbeyya)
As we were busing through this town in southern Spain along the Costa del Sol, I could only think of southern California or the West Austin hill country or any other beautiful, hilly, dry place with luxury condos along the tops of the hills, gleaming new boutiques and fire stations, and gigantic billboards that featured agents with huge smiles declaring themselves king of all residential and commercial real estate.
The signs were in English, a testament to the high cost of living and the low quality of health care back in the UK (as well as the bloody weather), which is driving British retirees south in droves.
The stampede has driven housing costs along this stretch up 10- and 20-fold over the past ten years. It's now so expensive in Marbeyya that middle-class retirees from the cold northern lands of Europe are setting their sights on Morocco, and specifically the north and the coasts (which don't have the harsh summers of the interior). Indeed, one real estate agent I spoke with is predicting that prices are going to skyrocket in Tangier over the next 10 years. (Hype alert!)
That scenario is actually related to one of the planks in the platform of the PJD, the Muslim-affiliated political party that's a frontrunner to win the 2007 parliamentary elections in Morocco. They want to encourage elder-tourism and retirement communities, rather than the current "(almost) anything goes" tourism of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll that (opponents allege) the current government supports.
I don't see how huge numbers of elderly retirees will come here to live without a really top notch health care system in place (which I understand Spain has). But in its search for a panacea to Morocco's problems, the PJD would do well to remember that there are other ways evil can infest the heart of economic development. As those watching the news in Europe now know, Marbella's mighty have fallen, with the mayor and most of the city council under arrest by the Spanish government for corruption.
Their sin? Land speculation.