LISBON, July 1 (Xinhua) -- During this time of year, colorful flags fill the narrow streets of Lisbon's medieval Alfama district and the smell of sardines emanate from various stands, as residents celebrate "Santos populares," the month of Popular Saints.
While historic traditions are still being celebrated in the neighborhood, Alfama is also one of the main areas in Lisbon undergoing tourism gentrification, as traditional cafes and restaurants give way to souvenir shops.
Not only are historic areas like this losing their original charm, but locals feel the unaffordable prices are driving them out of their city.
That was the subject of a debate at a conference organized recently by the Association for Heritage and Population of Alfama (APPA), which saw architects, sociologists, and other citizens get together to raise awareness about the effects of unplanned tourism.
"The main objective of the debate was to get people together to understand that the course the country is taking is not the best one for people who live here," Maria Lurdes Pinheiro, head of the association, told Xinhua.
"We also want to call the government's attention to these issues. What worries me the most is that the neighborhoods are being transformed solely for tourism. We are not against tourism, but we want people to be able to live here," she added.
Portugal saw a record number of tourists visit the country in 2015, with over 10 million visitors and hotel revenue reaching around 2.5 billion euros (2.78 billion U.S dollars). The country opened over 50 hotels last year and entrepreneurs have been redeveloping houses to rent for tourists in the old parts of the city.
Lisbon Mayor Fernando Medina has pointed out the benefits of tourism for the city, as the government tries to pick up the pieces after the country exited a 78-billion-euro bailout in 2014, with unemployment still at 12 percent and debt nearly hitting 130 percent of GDP.
But as crumbling houses are revived and tourist accommodation soars, some locals fear they are being driven out of their own neighborhoods.
"There is a lack of planning, and a devitalizing of historic neighborhoods," said Joao Seixas, professor of geography and regional planning at Lisbon's Nova University.
Seixas pointed out that the government's ending rent control in 2012 led to a more dynamic market, but also had dire consequences.
"It was positive, but at the same time, it led to precariousness, to evictions," he said.
Seixas suggested the government find a balance to benefit both proprietors and tenants.
"Tourism and real estate investment exists because it is an attractive city and has an identity," he said. "Benefits must be reverted to the city's quality of life." Enditem