Active citizens – Urban actions in public spaces



Alameda de Hercules Seville

In 2008, almost two years before the founding of Ctrl+Z , coinciding with the implementation of the so called “ley anti botellón” and other laws limiting civil rights of citizenship, I began to get involved in various civic dynamics around public space and to promote, among others, various initiatives which were mainly focused on the Alameda de Hércules .

The Alameda de Hercules, with nearly 37000 m2, is one of the largest and most representative of all public spaces of Seville. Built in 1574, was the first great urban promenade in Europe. Especially during the twentieth century had experienced a serious degradation both physical and social.
After years of frustrated efforts, in November 2005 rehabilitation works began with architects Elías Torres and Martínez Lapeña project. The completion of the reform was scheduled for May 2007, just before the next municipal elections. In February 2008 the works had not been completed, despite citizens complaints for the constant delays and stoppages.

Alameda de Hercules Seville 2009
Active citizenryIn March 2008, all conversations, networking and contingencies came together to generate and impulse the “Banco Costalero” action as an immediate reaction, of a group of neighbors, to the statements of the then Mayor of Seville, Alfredo Sánchez Monteseirín, who announced that the benches included under the project would not be place to prevent youth meetings in Alameda.

In addition to its repressive nature, these words justified, in our view, a privatization process of public space in the form of bars and restaurants terraces and tables where it is necessary consume to sit.

So with a self-built crane (benches weigh about 1 ton), the neighbors moved one of the pilot benches to a symbolic and much more visible place: between columns of Julius Caesar and Hercules.

This action drew public attention and appeared in several newspapers, fueling the public debate and therefore the pressure on the council include the benches as they appeared in the project.

The bench stayed five days between the columns before being removed, more than enough time to reach our goal.

claiming public spaceclaiming public spaceParticipatory Urban Action

Participatory Urban ActionParticipatory Urban Actionclaiming public space

Neighbors inaugurate alameda
During the summer of the same year the works were still unfinished and a friend pointed out to me that, ironically , in the design of the paving of the square, hardly noticeable from ground level, highlighted in the fountains in blue and white two dates: 1574, date of establishment of the Alameda and 2007, the year in which it was intended to finish the rehabilitation.

On 23 November 2008, the “Assembly for the free use of public spaces” in collaboration with many Alameda neighboring, organized an independent citizen inauguration. They conducted activities for adults and children, shows, a popular lunch and even an opening ceremony officiated by fake mayors. For the occasion the date 2007 drawn on the pavement was modified superimposing an “8 “. Perhaps pressured by the “promise” to draw a “9” in January, the mayor inaugurated the square on December 20, 2008 with triumphalist speeches and opening – momentarily – all facilities and equipment, which even today , six years after, aren’t completely activated.

Citizen ParticipationCitizen Participationclaiming public space

claiming public spaceCitizen Participationclaiming public space

Between and after these two main activities there where all a series of other actions, with or without my participation, which were focused in the same direction.

Our aim with this kind of actions, rather than to directly influence urban policies of the council, was to maintain high citizenry and media attention over them.
I found interesting, even as an architect, to seek the activation of dynamics that promote creation or contribute to keep alive the urban, media, political and common citizen level, debate over the use of public space.
Too often this is unfamiliar to citizenship and to the same people who inhabit the affected areas, trapped within very specific or polarized circles, in offices or meetings, situations in which the public is absent or is always the same setting a self-referential and somewhat sterile speech.

Representing the claims in a scenic and somehow plastic way, using the same public space as a stage and create a festive atmosphere around them, we achieved to get back in the streets the debate on this so unique, in the historic center Seville, public space.
Creating attractive stories and images has allowed their publication in a good number of local newspapers, rekindling the debate on this public space that was gradually and slowly being forgotten.

Six years after the first actions, no clear and recognizable traces of them can not be found on the square, probably, though perhaps later, benches would have been placed and certainly the square would have been inaugurated.
Even so I still think that push from words to peaceful and purposeful, but extremely pragmatic, actions was a step forward in the evolution towards a more active and participating citizenry for those who actively got involved in those actions.
Personally they where important experiences for configuring what is now Ctrl+Z.

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