James Wells. Senior Development Director at Layetana Real Estate
James Wells moved from London to Barcelona in early 2020 with his wife and 2 young children. Born in Colombia (to British parents), James has lived in the UK for the majority of his 36 years. In late 2019 James managed to secure a job with Barcelona-based property developer Layetana Real Estate as a Senior Development Director. The company, established over 50 years ago, has a rich history in Catalunya. Nowadays, Layetana is focused on delivering residential-based projects across Spain including an innovative independent senior living product called Arcadias. James' role is multi-faceted, and he helps to oversee the development projects, source new business as well as manage relations with their international investor base.
Why did you choose Barcelona?
Having been born in Colombia, I always maintained an interest in the Spanish language which ultimately resulted in me studying Spanish at university and spending a year living in Valencia. It was here that I met my now-wife (originally from Chile) and we have lived in the UK ever since, but have always had a niggling urge to find a way to move back to Spain. Barcelona was chosen as this is where the job is, but of all the cities in Spain I can honestly say that Barcelona was at the very top of the list.
What aspects of the city would you highlight as positive?
I work in the City, but live just outside in the coastal region of Maresme. For us, two of the key aspects of Barcelona are the climate and the proximity to the sea. It is not hard to better the climate in the UK, but it is fair to say that some parts of Spain can be unbearably hot for the unacclimatised. I enjoyed playing boats and water sports all my life and I want to give my children the same opportunities. There are not many cosmopolitan cities that offer the job prospects and culture in a coastal location, and that makes the city very special.
What aspects of the city must be improved? How?
There is a distinct lack of British-style pubs, which is something that weighs heavily on me, but I am slowly adjusting to! But, in seriousness, one thing I notice about Barcelona (and, I believe, Spain in general) is quite a high reliance on cars. I think the city is still ruled by the car and residents have an expectation of a right to have a car and somewhere to park it. This is a challenging mindset to overcome and needs a combination of incentivising the alternative modes of transport whilst disincentivising owning a car.
In the UK, for example, many authorities resist providing parking in new developments which along with parking restrictions on the roads, discourages car usage.
Which are the city's strengths that will allow it to overcome the COVID-19 crisis?
Where I believe a city like Barcelona can really come into its own, is in the recovery post-pandemic. Through both determination and innovation, Barcelona needs to show it can adapt to the new paradigm and take advantage of the growth markets which are not restricted by global geography.
What other challenges do you think the city will face once the health crisis ends?
I have not lived in Barcelona long enough to come anywhere near to understanding the political dynamics, but coming from a country that has recently experienced both a Scottish independence vote and a Brexit vote, I have some reasonable experience on these matters. What is very clear to me is that long-term uncertainty creates instability and in these toughest of times we all need to be working together and not aiming for political point scoring.
What do you expect from Barcelona in the coming years?
At a personal level, having only lived here for 1 year, half of which we have been in lockdown, I feel that I have barely scratched the surface of what Barcelona has to offer my family and I. Nothing that we have experienced in this year has altered our original reasons for moving here and once our personal freedom returns, we are very excited to take full advantage. Our absolute priority is to give the best childhood possible to our kids and I believe that Barcelona is the ideal place to offer a balance of work and aspirations tempered with a very healthy dose of fun.
Which city do you feel as "your city"? What do you miss the most?
Despite living in London for over 10 years, we frequently moved house, not calling one single place home. That said, London is where we have built our lives and unquestionably the biggest heartache stems from not seeing friends and family. It should be said that we have noted how friendly we have found it out here and have been made to feel very welcome. We are very excited to be making new friends, ¡and to teach the Spanish about the arts of rugby and cricket!