A few weeks ago I bookmarked/shared this post…I finally had time to read it and do a quick translation and will do my best to get to the second half soon.
Urban counter-hegemonies for transforming Madrid
Álvaro Sevilla-Buitrago (March 8, 2015)
My translation of the original Spanish
Two weeks ago we participated in an event organized by the Right to the City Circle of Podemos that, under the rubric of Reboot Madrid, served as a space of debate to encourage ideas in alliance with Ganemos and Podemos, the formations that – currently and under the name ‘Ahora Madrid’ (Madrid Now) – converged in a joint bid of the popular front in the next elections to the City Council of Madrid. The discussion in the forum on urbanism (there were three more, on local democracy, urban economics, and rights and social inclusion) was animated, with an audience primarily made up of veteran professionals but also of members of neighborhood movements, critical academics and political groups. In the intervention that launched the debate Teresa Bonilla and Ángela Matesanz, as well as Agustín Hernández Aja, who organized all the events, accompanied me. I am reviewing here the discussion not in the spirit of taking minutes from the event – there were too many topics covered to attempt a synthesis – but rather in the style of personal reflection to share the ideas that were on the table, and in relation to the perspective that I tried to contribute to the debate.
The highlight of the debate: confirming the sense that the ripeness of the present context for forging an encounter between the technical moment, the social moment and the political moment around the possibility to develop an alternative urbanism to that which Madrid has suffered in recent decades. Indeed, the majority of the ideas on the table resonated with claim that the citizen urbanism that the emergent groups were developing, which in turn echoes the historical demands of local social movements. My table companions succinctly explained the fundamental elements of this urbanism to come:
• In a convincing intervention against Madrid regarding speculation and corruption, Teresa Bonilla defended the blockade of all operations of new urban development outlined in the General Plan of 1997 (and its successive modifications) and an audit of the operations that are currently underway: a strategy of social control stifling the local housing blockade that should be seen as complementing a flight from the principles of more involved citizen management that the first phase of the General Plan of 1985 pursued, and in which Bonilla herself participated.
• As a natural corollary to this claim, Ángela Matesanz’s presentation advocated for a recuperation of the consolidated city as a field of key maneuvers in which the future development of the city of Madrid would be at stake. This requires, according to her, an integral policy of urban regeneration actively destined to palliate the social inequalities between neighborhoods, which have grown substantially during the crisis. This strategy should also be critically positioned against the recent turns toward gentrification sponsored at diverse institutional levels, taking the rehabilitation of the historic periphery as an objective principal.
I believe I am not mistaken when I say that there was a general consensus in the room in favor of these arguments and a large part of the suggestions during the following discussion, among them:
• Improve the shortages of public facilities and green spaces in all the neighborhoods of Madrid, to guarantee the equality of access to these basic services
• Review the recent agreements for specific operations of internal reform and urban renewal
• Recuperate the Municipal housing and Land Corporation as a structural organ for progressive politics of social housing and the promotion of public land
• Create a program observing urban inequality in order to influence vulnerable spaces
• Remake the administrative structure to recreate better contact with the citizenry
• Activate Territorial District Councils as organs of citizen participation
• Reconcile the position of Madrid in the network of global cities with an urbanism that guarantees human dignity
• Create a citizen observatory to network distinct spaces of urban reflection on civil society, also establishing a nonorganic relationship between said observatory and local public institutions
• And a classic in these encounters, the restructuration of local finance to disengage them once and for all from the generation of real estate profits through urbanization
In sum, these are only some of the ideas on the table that come to mind for highlighting the two crucial elements of the encounter and the current political moment. In the first place, the fact that almost all these arguments are traditional arguments. These are not new ideas, they were there before Podemos and Ganemos, before the 15M and before the crisis; in fact some ideas are more than years old and go back to the first urbanisms of the Transition. We have seen them appear time and time again in encounters like the one the other day, in recent years and also, in the case of most critical sectors, during the “golden years” of the real estate boom. The second key aspect in my opinion is that the current situation offers the end we had always identified as the “missing” part in the emergence of an alternative urbanism: a citizenry that demands it and the political will to implement it. In this sense, as I said earlier, the present context seems to be a favorable scene for the intersection of these three moments that were uncoupled until now: the technical – that would have long been a battery of propositions to combat the urban waste and real estate armageddon that have assaulted Madrid for decades –, the social and the political.