Last year’s Grigri Pixel project helped us to know and make visible some of the common threats that affect the public and meeting spaces of the African and European territories. Different voices from both continents denounced the disappearance of scarce public spaces and the lack of places dedicated to rest, meeting, or entertainment, especially for the youngest. Especially in African cities, the distinction between center and periphery generated a gap regarding the quantity and quality of its public spaces. While the center is cared and maintained to the delight of visitors and tourists, the outlying neighborhoods suffer from carelessness and negligence.
The main shared risks and threats to this disappearance of public and meeting spaces have to do with the financial speculation of land and housing and with the governance models adopted by the administrations. In the first case, tourism as a form of local economy endangers some particularly attractive and strategically located areas, on which hotels and shops are built for visitors. This activity is also exerting a strong pressure on the housing market. The increase in rental prices and of foreign investment on purchasing flats for tourism, is mutating the neighborhood’s fabric and displacing or expelling the local population. These socio-economic dynamics associated with tourism threaten to empty the historic center of the cities and their surrounding neighborhoods, making them a place of administrative and institutional pilgrimage for their inhabitants, or turning them into increasingly standardized theme parks for tourists.
In the case of governance models, we observed how, both in cities in Africa and in Europe, the commodification of the territory pushes the fragmentation of the social fabric, the isolation of those most socio-economically vulnerable groups, and the clienterization of its inhabitants, treated as mere users and consumers of services. Regardless of the governance models identified (absence of a state and proliferation of mafias, in some African cities vs. hyper-normativization of public space and over-intervention of the technocratic administration, especially in Europe), the interviewed people denounced how opaque complicity between the State and the market, and the connivance of the administration with groups of private economic interests, weaken the population as a political agent in the collective decision-making of the city, but also the administration as an advocate and guarantor of citizens’ rights.
However, in the case of Madrid -the city that hosts the Grigri Pixel 2018-, collective responses have emerged in recent years in defense of public and common spaces and for the right to the city for all. Among them, the “Union of Tenants”, who defends the rights of the tenants and promote the modification of the lease law; the “Union of Manteros and Lateros of Madrid”, which denounces institutional racism and violence, the persecution of the migrant collective and demands the legalization of street vending; or the initiative “Lavapiés, ¿Dónde dónde vas?”, which brings together the neighbors of this neighborhood affected by gentrification, to try to think of other more sustainable life forms and self-government at the scale of neighbourhood. Also the social center “La Ingobernable”, located in the Paseo del Prado, which went from being the headquarters of a Public University (UNED), to the Retiro Health Center, to a disused building and later transferred to a foundation for the projection of a museum that never came to fruition, until it was reappropriated and occupied as a self-managed and common good in 2017.
All these initiatives and projects have in common the collective mobilization of conflict as an engine for social change in the heart of the city and its neighborhoods, in order to achieve greater levels of agency and self-government in the definition and defense of the rights of those who inhabit it and live, considering it as a common good of all and for all. Sometimes, aligned with municipal programs that also seek the empowerment of citizenship; others, in direct antagonism with the administration, this type of initiatives and conflicts gives us clues about some of the challenges posed by the defense of the right to the city, about what the right to the city means or about what conditions should be given to achieve this right, especially when we focus our attention on the historic core of cities and their surroundings, on their architectural and cultural heritage, or on what are called EGA (Spaces of Great Inflow), on which tourism has the greatest impact .
With this framework, there are some issues we would like to discuss in the seminar in relation to the right to the city, in Africa and Europe, by sharing experiences, imaginaries and reflections of both continents:
What do we mean by city? .and by citizen? And by heritage? Who enjoys it? Who does it come from? Who maintains and sustains it? Who takes care of it? At the expense of what and who? How to rebalance these roles?
The right to the city, in addition to be claimed, how can we defend it, achieve it, conquer it or grant it? Who are left out of the right to the city? Who is legitimized for their claim and who is not? Who do we exclude and what kind of social, economic, gender, racial, age or health gaps make it difficult to apply?
If the city (and its infrastructures, spaces and public resources) is a common good, of all and for all, what role do the municipal institutions play? And the citizenship? What mechanisms do we provide for a co-responsibility and a collaborative participation in the exercise of the right to the city?
But not a city univocally understood, fixed and closed. So… how to exercise the right to the city -as an object-, but simultaneously the right to its defense -as an action-? How to make our defense a creative exercise that keeps its meaning and its imaginaries open? What allows the proliferation of voices and visions, and not their closure?
If we want an inclusive, just and egalitarian city, for all, how can we make for not reproducing dichotomies and dependencies between center-periphery? How to include distances, near and far? How to incorporate and not forget the margins and the marginalized? How to respect, combine and include the collective but also individual dimension of those who inhabit it?
When we talk about the right to the city, at what scale do we do it? … On a metropolitan scale, on a neighborhood scale, on a block scale? To what temporality and rhythms? … Incorporating the past, the present and the near and distant future? At the pace of those who live it, those who visit it as a tourist, those who pass through it …?
With the right to the city, what forms of life, what stories, what memories are being defended, protected and promoted? Which others are being silenced or made invisible? What other forms and sustainable lifestyles can we recreate? What other imaginaries of the city could be promoted?
Taking part in this debate will be: Ibrahima Wane, a professor at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop in Dakar, (Senegal); Monza Kane Limam, a rapper and cultural activist from Nouakchott, (Mauritania); Cherimus, an art collective from Sardinia (Italy), and Itziar González, an architect and town planner from Barcelona; together with the presence of projects from Imagina Madrid, a programme from Intermediae – Matadero Madrid committed to exploring new forms of creative and artistic intervention in public spaces.