Making the Madrid Commons

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Raphaël Besson:

"The movement around Madrid’s public spaces has roots that stretch back to the Situationist International of the 1960s. It asserts that experimentation and the mobilisation of a wide range of knowledge, be it expert or profane, are the basis for renewed vision of the urban fabric. By inciting citizens to act directly on the urban landscape and to freely create daily life, it differentiates itself from militant politics, to defend an intense daily activism.

In contrast to Madrid’s experiments, the Situationist movement remains largely confined at a literary and conceptual level. New digital manufacturing techniques and tools have changed this situation. They enabled Madrid activists and residents to demand the material realisation of the Situationist ideal and to defend a “right to the infrastructure of cities”. This right is not limited to demanding equal access to city resources, but also concerns the city’s infrastructure, the “urban hardware”.

It going beyond social, educational and cultural life to coproducing city public spaces, equipment and other urban infrastructures. Thus Madrid’s movements are part of the “maker age”. In citizen laboratories, physical and material aspects come before intellectual and political considerations. Residents go first to the garden, where they can exchange and create; only then do they debate broader political issues. In this “soft activism”, the shared space becomes the new “interstice where political reconstruction could begin”.

Exploring Madrid’s urban experiments permits us to better understand the conditions needed to making the urban commons. First is some vacant space and the possibility of using a portion of it to experiment and create. The space also need to be intermediate – neither private nor public – and inherently unstable and suitable for gathering. Then come the digital tools and acquisition of the technical capacity to produce shared space. Finally the “making” begins, and with it the continuous interaction between the materials and the intellectual end result.

How such urban commons experiments are to be developed and managed over the long-term remains to be answered. From this point of view, everything remains to be done." (