Citizen Laboratories

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By Raphaël Besson, focusing on Madrid, Spain:

"The city’s Indignados are back, asserting that residents have a “right to the city” as well as “lodging, work, culture, health, education, political participation, the freedom of personal development and the right to first-necessity products”, as expressed in the manifesto of the ¡Democracia Real Ya! movement. These and other groups have thus revived a traditional Madrilenian citizens’ movement, based in part on self-management.

This is witnessed today in the phenomena of laboratorios ciudadanos (citizen laboratories) created in vacant city spaces. Not the result of any urban-planning strategy, they seem to have materialised from the spontaneous impulse of ordinary citizens and highly qualified groups working together in areas like collaborative economy, the digital technology, urban ecology or social urbanisation. These laboratories are fertile grounds for open-source urban planning (in Spanish, urbanismo de codigo abierto) and collectively rethinking the urban commons. The challenge is to (re)make the city in situ, using neighbourhood resources rather than acting like public authorities or already-established municipal groups.

Citizen laboratories use digital tools and “hacker ethics” to reclaim and coproduce in Madrid’s vacant spaces. Some twenty laboratorios ciudadanos have emerged over the last few years, including La Tabacalera, Esta es une plaza or Campo de la Cebada. Each specialises in a particular field, such as agriculture and urban economy, social and cultural integration, collaborative art or digital economy." (

Campo de la Cebada

Raphaël Besson:

The Campo de la Cebada came to be in October 2010, when the city decided to demolish a sports complex in the La Latina area. Residents and neighbourhood groups worked together to create and manage an area dedicated to citizen social and cultural initiatives, with shared gardens and sports fields. Benches and bleachers were designed and made from recycled materials using free designs and fab-lab tools. Participants even created a geodesic dome 14 metres in diameter for hosting different cultural and social events.

The Campo de la Cebada has since grown to include exchange services, workshops for street art, photography, poetry and theatre, and events such as open-air music and film festivals. Activities are totally self-managed by groups representing residents, retailers, and associations, as well as architects, urban planners, researchers and engineers. It’s administered collectively rather than within the closed circle of a few elected officials or experts. Its objective is “that anyone may feel concerned and be implicated in the functions of the place”, according to Manuel Pascual of the Zuloark architectural agency." (