La Latina Neighborhood in Madrid

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Adam Greenfield:

"The La Latina neighbourhood of Madrid was once home to a thriving market hall, and later a well-used community sporting facility, demolished in August 2009 to make way for planned improvements. But with Spain in the grips of the 2008 economic downturn, the money earmarked for the improvements failed to materialise, and the site remained vacant, cordoned off from the rest of the city by a chainlink fence. As such sacrifice zones will tend to, this site, el Campo de Cebada, increasingly began to attract graffiti, illegal dumping and still-less salutary behavior. Alerted to the deteriorating situation by neighbours, city authorities claimed they were powerless to intervene, apparently in the belief that they had no right to intercede on land belonging to private developers.

Exasperated with this state of affairs, a group of community activists, including architects of the Zuloark collective, cut through the fence and immediately began recuperating the site for citizen use. Following a cleanup, the activists used salvaged material to build benches, mobile sunshades and other elements of an ingenious, rapidly reconfigurable parliament – and the first question they put before this parliament was how to manage the site itself.

This self-stewardship was successful enough for long enough for the collective to eventually obtain quasi-official sanction from the municipal administration. Some three years on, in its various roles as recreation ground, youth centre and assembly hall, el Campo has become a vital community resource. If it has problems now, they are of the sort that attend unanticipated success: on holiday weekends especially, the site attracts overflow crowds.

Where’s the technology in all of this? Beyond canny use of Twitter and Facebook, and an online calendar of activities, there isn’t much. That’s the point. The benches and platforms of el Campo aren’t festooned with sensors, don’t have IPv6 addresses, don’t comply with some ISO wireless-networking standard. The art walls aren’t high- resolution interactive touch surfaces, and the young people painting on them certainly haven’t been issued with Palava-style, all- in-one smartcards. Nevertheless, it would be a profound mistake to not understand el Campo as the heavily networked place it is, just as Occupy Sandy’s distribution centres were.

These are intensely technologised sites, places where the shape of action and possibility are profoundly conditioned by what I call the “dark weather” of the network – that layer of information that swirls around the physical environment, intangible to the unaided human sensorium but possessing terrific potency. It’s simply that in both these cases, the sustaining interactivity was for the most part founded on the use of mature technologies, long deglamorised and long settled into what the technology-consulting practice Gartner refers to as the “trough of disillusionment”.

The true enablers of participation turn out to be nothing more exciting than cheap commodity devices, reliable access to sufficiently high- bandwidth connectivity, and generic cloud services. These implications should be carefully mulled over by developers, those responsible for crafting municipal and national policy, and funding bodies in the philanthropic sector." (