Every time a new statistic comes out it breaks my heart. Every time the number drops is like another nail in the coffin. This latest one really shocked me. There are three times as many pensioners in the City of Dubrovnik than children. What a truly mortifying statistic.
The end is nigh. I feel like someone should be playing the “funeral march” in the background. It is a subject so close to my heart, and one that I have written about so many times that I feel like a broken record just spinning around on a turntable. And yet nothing (with a capital N) is ever done about it. There are only 160 children left in the City, the future looks very tenuous indeed. I wonder how many of them will see their grandchildren playing on the stone streets.
It is a subject that I have put a lot of thought into. There are many factors why the population is falling like a pebble in the Adriatic. It is just too easy to lay the blame at the door of one of them. From escalating real estate prices, the boom of Dubrovnik as a tourist destination, the explosion of Airbnb and the many challenges of actually living within the city walls. Combine these with a passive approach from every local council over the past twenty years and you have a recipe for disaster. It has been the perfect storm.
Nothing creative has ever been done to protect and nurture the inhabitants, nothing. In fact, quite the opposite. The end is inevitable and much closer than we think. With such a huge aging population the end will come in a hurry. I quite expect to see the end in my lifetime. But when is the end. We allegedly have around 800 people still alive inside the walls. My estimate is that in another twenty years (if we are lucky) that figure will drop below 200 and that is pretty much the end of the city. Whilst I love the city in the winter, probably more than in the summer, the closed shutters and lack of lights in windows has become depressing.
Of course Dubrovnik isn’t unique. Historic cities across the world have died. Just a few years ago I went to Faro in the south of Portugal. As much as I wanted to take photos of people living and working inside the ancient walls the only human life I could find (after 45 minutes searching) was a nun, and she scurried off quicker than my camera could flash. So accepting that the end is soon we should start thinking of alternatives. The city will continue to be a magnet for tourists, it just won’t be a city anymore, more of a museum. A mixture of apartments for rent, souvenir shops, restaurants and well museums. But wait a minute that’s what it is today. Should we really be panicking that the City is dying?
The future reality looks pretty similar to what we have today anyway. Convincing local people to move back to the city is pretty much impossible, meaning that the population will continue to fall.
So we need to accept the situation and plan for a different kind of city. We could even close the gates at night and turn all the nights off to save electricity. The parking problem will be less because everyone has moved to Lapad. There will be no need to worry about access for emergency services. Basically the pigeons will have the city to themselves, but with no one left to feed them will they also be looking for another home. We could just lock the gates at the end of October and leave them locked until Easter. Just opening them for a few days for Christmas and St. Blaise.
The city has stopped being a city and has turned into an attraction. An attraction for foreign tourists and for locals as well. And every attraction in the world has opening times. We’ll hang a sign on the wooden gates – “Closed for repairs” – in the winter and save the money. Such a proud and iconic city has been left to die. And the really sad part is that there was a solution. But in reality nobody ever tried anything to help their beloved city. They rang every single drop of money out of it and left it to die a sad and lonely death.
We should all be ashamed. In one generation we have killed the spirit of the city. I can imagine what the history books will write about us. Of course everyone will blame everyone else. And to be honest it doesn’t matter who takes the blame, the only thing that matters is a once unique and vibrant city is a museum. All we will be able to say is sorry. Dear future generations, and I think I speak for all of us, sorry.