Traditionally, the city’s urban character has been defined by laws and regulations that do not always respond to the wishes and needs of citizens. Thus, the contemporary European city (Madrid is a good example) has become a new type of public space whose primary purpose is to serve as stage for advertising, commercial or private recreational use. These spaces encourage an individual, regulated and economically profitable use of the public space, with the aim of promoting the “City Brand”.
In these cities (again, Madrid is a good example) citizens’ initiatives have emerged to manage abandoned spaces, either illegally or through an agreement with the municipality or the landowner. Basurama finds that spaces managed by citizens are richer and more interesting than official public spaces, for several reasons:
- The community that manages, builds and takes care of the space experiences a process of dialogue and understanding, both among its members and with its environment.
- Participants’ experiences in these spaces enrich their imagination and expand their capacity to desire and imagine the public space. In this way, these spaces build citizenship.
- Active participation in these processes leads to the empowerment of citizens, who find that, by associating with others, it is possible to overcome challenges that cannot be resolved alone.
And above all, these processes are constantly evolving: they never stop generating conflict and raising questions about ourselves as citizens and the way we interact with the city and other people.
We believe that the experiences, insights and questions raised within the areas managed by citizens can jump the boundaries of these small places and reverberate in the rest of the city, affecting the political and technical visions of how and what the city should be, visions usually monopolised by a small professional elite.
The creation and support of these processes has been an area of focus for Basurama in recent years, both theoretically and practically. For example, El Campo de Cebada (The Barley Field) , a space in the centre of Madrid, was abandoned in August 2009 after the existing sports facility was demolished. Basurama revived this space in 2010, together with local residents and many other groups. More recently we contributed to the project Autobarrios en San Cristobal (Self-Made Neighbourhood in San Cristobal), a southern suburb of Madrid stigmatised in the minds of residents due to high crime rates and a large immigrant population.
With these types of projects, Basurama provides skills and knowledge to find and use low-cost resources to transform these spaces into something different, alive and excitingly habitable. The process consists of teaching several simple techniques that allow objects to be repaired, improved or even reproduced by anyone. Parallel to this process of physically constructing the space, Basurama always encourages the creation of a network through public outreach, trying to join existing processes and involve other actors: political, technical, associations, citizens and many different “outside” agents, from scholars to informal garbage collectors.
On the regional level, Basurama is involved in the project Local Squares, a European project that brings together experts in participation from five different countries to collaborate on issues related to urban citizenship. Local Squares aims to transmit thoughts and experiences through a series of meetings in the cities where each partner operates, with the aim of enriching the tools each partner works with.
In Madrid, citizens’ initiatives face diverse problems if they want to develop a community project in a public space: legal and security issues, lack of resources and more. These problems can be due to lack of technical knowledge by citizens as well as outdated or nonexistent channels of communication with public agencies.
Along with groups in Skopje and Belgrade, two cities with similar problems, Basurama is developing a project called Urban Cooks, whose main objective is to design together with active communities and the local municipality a set of tools and protocols to motivate and inspire local communities to start their own urban rejuvenation projects.
In all of these cases, one of the main challenges that Basurama faces is being able to support these initiatives without taking a leadership role or distorting them.
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