Mobilising international networks for a local community

Levente Polyak (Eutropian, Italy) met David Juarez (Straddle3, Arquitecturas Colectivas, Spain) during the Arquitecturas Colectivas annual meeting in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

I knew about Arquitecturas Colectivas and Straddle3, so when I first met David Juarez during the first CitizensLab meeting in Berlin I was happy to be able to exchange ideas and sketch potential cooperation projects with him. Therefore David’s invitation to join the annual Arquitecturas Colectivas meeting in Gran Canaria sounded very interesting and I decided to join.

Introduction at the Arquitecturas Colectivas meeting

The Arquitecturas Colectivas meeting (#AACC_Canarias2017) was a complex reunion of over 30 architecture-related collectives from Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Columbia, Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Cabo Verde and Senegal. Combining hands-on workshops with visits to community initiatives and public presentations in the evening, #AACC_Canarias2017 provided a full-time programme for the duration of the event. The workshops focused on a largely self-built neighbourhood, Risco, with limited public facilities and services: the architects engaged in building public spaces for the community and producing visible messages to the public administration, while the site visits took us to a community-backed hostel and a community garden, both interesting in their community engagement profile. The presentations were scattered around the city, allowing us to discover a different neighbourhood each evening.

Creating new public spaces in Risco, Las Palmas

#AACC_Canarias2017 was a well-organised event, channeling a lot of energies and resources into a series of challenges, mainly into the improvement of public spaces in Risco. It took some time for me to find my place in the workshops: not used to construction workshops anymore, I was looking into helping the organisation of community engagement and institutional communication, although my limited knowledge of Spanish did not give me an important role in the process. It was impressive to observe the massive work done in only a few days, where entirely new public spaces and gardens were born. As for the evening programmes, the presentations were a bit frontal but gave the opportunity to get to know each other’s work and get into details in private discussions.

The most interesting aspect of #AACC_Canarias2017 for me was to recognise the importance of the Arquitecturas Colectivas network, born from regular meetings, but also including more specific cooperations, organisations helping each other in their local work, contributing with their various skills and competences to local engagements. This creates a strong network covering all major cities in Spain and also expanding into international partnerships. The persistence and cohesion of this network, despite lacking an institutionalised form, is quite different from what I know in other countries.

Daniela Patti speaks about Eutropian and Funding the Cooperative City

#AACC_Canarias2017 was very revealing in many ways. First, the human dynamics of working together on a joint task was very engaging, and it had the potential to create long-term, continuous engagements. It taught me about the importance of establishing networks and creating short-term objectives to bring together the network’s members and gave me new insights for pursuing Network Navigator, a CitizensLab prototype. Combining physical intervention with research into the planning, legal and political context also proved to create powerful tools in the hands of the community, where the playfulness of showing serious messages was highly appreciated by the community. The presentation we gave about our work (in Spanish) taught us about how to adapt our message to different audiences, and find the best connection points with them. All these experiences fed into a better understanding of my organisation’s perspectives and gave us new ideas for projects and cooperations.

Collective lunch in Calle Gregorio Gutiérrez

Levente Polyak is activist, urban planner, researcher and policy adviser. He is editor of Cooperative City, co-founder of Eutropian Research & Action (Vienna-Rome) and board member of the KÉK – Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Centre (Budapest). He supports public administrations and NGOs of various sizes and geographic locations across Europe in creating spatial development projects and new governance models.

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