New Municipalism

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= refers to the new city-based political change efforts inaugurated with the victory of Barcelona en Comu and other Spanish cities


Sophie Jerram:

"1. Feminised politics.

The new municipalisism is radicalising the process of representation and it is female-led. It will grow from those experienced in listening to their communities. Barcelona City Councillor, Laura Perez Castaño suggested that no matter how we look at it, women’s needs are different to men’s. Issues such as mobility and working hours are different for women and our political positions different. New Zealand knows about historic suffrage; and we should start to recognise the new community-driven leaders who are women.

2. Proximity

is a key asset when it comes to municipalism. Having access to all the members of our small communities allows for genuine engagement. We talk about New Zealand’s ‘2 degrees’ social geography and this is powerful. The traditional elite have used proximity in recent times and it can be just as easily employed. Recommended reading: Joan Subirats on Proximity (included here the book Cities in the 21st Century).

3. Ecology and people are connected.

Legendary Indian activist Vandana Shiva spoke about forests self-organising and that the natural state for people too is also to self-organise within their urban ecosystems. To quote US activist Debbie Bookchin, “We can’t address ecological problems without resolving our addiction to domination and hierarchy.” We know this in New Zealand: the mauri of the land is connected to the mauri of the people. That means the people and land stay well together.


As community organisers, don’t rely on the mainstream media to reach your people or reflect your community. Organising at community level is the way to connect where you are dealing with people at a personal level. It’s time consuming -get used to it. Barcelona En Comu was largely ignored by the TV and newspapers until the election. Trust your community networks and not the media." (


Drawn from the Fearless Cities conference in Barcelona, 2017


Sophie Jerram:

"Barcelona En Comu started out as movement of self-organising groups and Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau is one of the more public faces of it. Back in 2014 she was part of organisation, Platform for Mortgage Victims, working to stop people being evicted from their homes by banks.

Connecting with other groups, the Platform members became more politically active when they realised that it wasn’t just about tackling banks — that public institutions had to change too. Running for Barcelona Council, initially under the banner Guanyem Barcelona (We will win Barcelona) they didn’t meet in secret or in members’ sitting rooms. They held meetings in the squares, in the streets, and in all neighborhoods. For more history see this Guardian piece How to win back the city.

Although BeC evolved to become a political party, their connection between the people and the political process continues fluidly. Oriol Corbella, one of my young hosts, sent me a recent message as he was attending a meeting in his neighborhood with Barcelona En Comu, who were reporting back after two years in Council. He described how the room was separated into five circles (each circle a subject), with the respective politicians explaining “the goals we had accomplished, the difficulties and the future. There are many difficulties for the ones in government to communicate what they do to the people from the party.” But intention is there."

Buckfastleigh, UK

Participatory democracy is fast-shaping the operations of other local governments over Europe, and it may be that smaller towns are easier to manage than cities. At the session Municipalism in towns and rural areas I learned that in the UK, in Buckfastleigh, Devon, Pamela Barrett, Mayor of Buckfastleigh, was elected once her her community collectively developed 8 new initiatives and the with Council raised rates by 1 pound a week (equating to an 100% rise) without backlash. Buckfastleigh runs its meetings in football clubs, in parks and the streets, and allows members of the public to contribute in a Roman-style ‘polis’."

Torrelodones, Spain

"In Torrelodones, Spain, Marina Vicen, Councilor for Youth and Education, spoke of how the Council has established a drop in centre to deal with issues immediately — same day if possible."


"In Celrá, we heard from Mercè Amich Vidal, Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP), Councilor for Youth and Equality at Celrà City Council where their constituency asked them to ring the elderly residents every morning to wish them good morning and will check-in on them personally if they don’t respond. They call this the Bon Dia service.

In Celrá, 10o% of local budget (outside of Council staffing) is allocated participatorily. The town has since been trialing an online app — Celrà participa — which will assist this purpose."


"In London, the Right to the City campaign started before the UK general election and has similar principles to municipalism, with a certain pick up especially since the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. Yet it feels as if class and power issues could take a while to be fully shaken from the English psyche — see Caroline Molloy’s damning piece on UK local politics." (

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