Neighbourhoods as Commons

How did I realize that a Commons Good based system was everything but utopian?

Irene Alonso interns at Commons Network in Berlin. Here, she writes about her journey into the world of commons.

I studied sociology at the University of Salamanca. It is a city that brings smiles for the past good times and exalts the most nostalgic memories. Student city par excellence, Salamanca is also an extremely conservative location. The Popular Party has governed the city since 1995 and the trend is difficult to change.

Moreover, Salamanca has an aging population with 26% of the inhabitants being older than 65 years old. The task of coming up with new ideas and alternatives rests on a student population that lives in the city just for 4 years. But even with those features, the city hides an urge for change that clings like a vine.

El barrio del Oeste is the perfect illustration to exemplify that communitarian cooperation can arise, even in environments with opposed-to-progress ideologies. Since 1977 a neighborhood organization called ZOES has been working for the local public with a clear slogan “haciendo barrio, haciendo ciudad”. It is not, however, until the beginning of the 21st century when the social and artistic initiatives of the organization started to have some impact. Firstly, the cultural events to mobilize the neighbors were criticized by the local government, who believed they were the only ones capable of such enterprises. Nowadays, the main characteristic of the district, its urban art, has been appropriated by the mayor to promote the city to tourists.

In spite of the populist move of the government, the activities there are still coordinated by the locals, whom are fomenting an idea of their public space as a commons, raising awareness that there is no one better than the citizens to rebuild their city, and in doing so, trying to avoid the gentrification of the area.

In personal terms, el barrio del Oeste was the first experience I ever had with a real cooperative system. Vivid proof that, despite the old-fashioned current institutionalized system, the strength of a participative society willing to create, connect and include is the right way to facilitate our social and cultural commons.