In Esta es una plaza (“This is a public space”), you can hear sounds of children playing, laughing adults, and saws cutting the wood for the next pavilion. The space serves residents of Lavapiés, a relatively low-income neighborhood with the highest density of immigrants in central Madrid. Walking into this neighborhood is like entering a different country, except it is hard to tell which one you are in.
The 1200 square meter site was uncultivated for some 40 years, but in 2008 the surrounding neighborhood petitioned to collaboratively transform it into a garden and gathering place for the community. The community took ownership of the land to redevelop it as a multi-purpose park as opposed to allowing private commercial or residential development. From the beginning, the locals wanted to retain as much control over the land as possible, and still have not spent all of the money granted to them by the government due to their successful fundraising and do-it-yourself attitude.
Esta es una Plaza is fenced in by brick walls decorated by local artists with fruit trees and garden plots, a playground, self-built structures and creations - and you can not miss the stage at the end of the park. The paintings on the walls illustrate one of the core ideas of the space: whoever wants to contribute can if they build consensus with the community, after which they are given the time and space to bring their vision to life. There are many artistic touches to the place that shows the character of the community members that love it.
The self-managed urban public space features classes regularly, like how to create renewable energy through biogas production and geothermal energy. Other classes include topics such as gardening, bicycle repair, mindfulness, and all classes are free and try to incorporate all age groups. Many classes offer educational programming for children after school and on the weekends. Locals share dinners (with food from the garden), put on performances, and conduct workshops among many other activities. Anyone can host an activity and there is a monthly meeting to organize the activities and maintenance of the space.
This is a place that fosters people meeting between generations and cultures, building the value of the neighborhood-level resources and creating more relationships between everyone in the community. According to Huertos Urbanos Comunitarios de Madrid (“Community Gardens of Madrid”):
“The objective is to build an alternative place for leisure, socialization, exchange and development of the social fabric. Esta es una Plaza collaborates with associations, entities, groups, universities, foundations, and neighbors that share the participatory culture and the exchange of knowledge. Esta es una Plaza is a daily event, a space, a community, a project. [It is a] living and formative space that has raised the recognition and interest from university and cultural areas and that perceives itself as a daily event built from self-reflection, participation and consensus.”
Apartments look over the park, giving a sense of natural surveillance.
The bear is iconic for Madrid and represents the city, protecting the trees from the people who want to tear them down. In essence, this illustrates the fight of locals to protect this sit from development sanctioned by the government of Madrid.
The hours are based on the Spanish sun; it’s only open Sunday and sunny days. Check out their blogs for more information: http://estaesunaplaza.blogspot.com
Some photos courtesy of Naturalensa, Cities in Transition and Madrid No Frills