Dying town, big promises

Castelnou has been hit hard by the country’s worst economic downturn in decades

Like many small villages in Spain, Castelnou, about 200 km west of Barcelona, has been hit hard by the country’s worst economic downturn in decades. The church closed its doors earlier this year and the town, which has only 109 inhabitants, is now surrounded by abandoned olive groves after shrinking to a sixth of the size it was more than half a century ago. Yet instead of going quietly, Castelnou is relying on a unique, if not bold, plan for ensuring its survival.

To attract new residents and businesses to the area, Castelnou is offering newcomers cheap houses, free land, babysitting services for those who bring children, and the promise that they will be exempt from municipal taxes. Those who bring both a child and a business plan are being bumped to the front of the line. So far, some 500 families have submitted proposals, which has José Miguel Esteruelas, the town’s mayor, dreaming about reopening the town’s only school, which closed a decade ago due to a lack of students. “We want enough children to make it worth opening the school again,” he said. To help with that process, the town is also labelling itself “the place where things happen.”