Local community networks: an example of European public space Back

Local community networks: an example of European public space

As cultural workers actively participating in community support networks, in the Madalena and Gancho neighborhoods in Zaragoza (Spain), Almudena Caso and Carlos Buj came up with the project Thriving Regardless. They are interested in documenting, celebrating, and raising awareness about community networks.

The Covid-19 crisis has highlighted that different European communities were experiencing the confinement measures in different ways. A part of civil society is responding discreetly, but effectively, to the daily challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic in a grassroots and decentralized way, offering rapid practical solutions to urgent problems with an agility the government is not capable of offering. Self-organised and self-funded networks are blossoming in European neighbourhoods, providing support to those in need, including: help to pay rents, production of medical equipment for health centres, elderly residencies, and hospitals, delivery of groceries, Wi-Fi sharing, printing services and more.

The work that the networks are doing is not only necessary but also a paradigmatic change in the ways in which neighbours are collaborating amongst themselves and mediating with public administrations and institutions. Additionally, these support networks work mainly on a trust and solidarity basis that proved to be efficient and successful.

This project has three main phases. The first phase entails in collecting stories, collaboration experiences, interviews, data, pictures, knowledge and information from participants of the networks.
Secondly, they will examine all the gathered data and create articles, podcast pieces and imagery that will narrate the polyphony of stories. Best praxis, working models and organizational and logistical systems developed by the networks will also be presented. All these cultural products will be collected, archived and presented on a website and an online handbook. This has the aim to provide visibility for and recognition of the community support networks by compiling their experience in a digital archive, accessible worldwide.

The handbook will contain contacts and guidelines, providing “how to” instructions to facilitate the replication of successful models elsewhere in Europe. The handbook will be free to access and available in Spanish and English. A public presentation event will also be organised locally and people from the communities will be invited, Covid-19 restrictions permitting.

From local solidarity to European solidarity
The community support networks embody in itself the notion of Europe as public space. They are formed of individual neighbours who choose to help each other, creating an invisible but functional web of support sustained solely by solidary and cross-cultural relationships. These social connections make use of an invisible but real public space that occurs through networks like video conferences, messaging apps, telephone, etc. These intangible bonds translate into tangible solutions such as: Delivery of food and medicine, Wi-Fi sharing to allow disadvantaged pupils to do their schoolwork, psychological support, homemade production and delivery of masks and gowns to sanitary facilities.

The two networks include more than 400 people from diverse cultural backgrounds offering and receiving support. This is their idea of European shared public space, understanding it as the place where people gather to reflect on and get organised regarding citizenship issues, such as the consequences of this pandemic. Accordingly, these networks are starting to design pre-emptive ways in which they can be useful in the crisis’ aftermath, in matters like housing and unemployment. This is a unique archive of timely and overlooked cultural practices in Europe.

Thriving Regardless will serve as multiplicative tools. They want this project to be a practical resource for the current crisis and for its aftermath, using successful praxis and experience in vastly different local European contexts.

The “plaza”(square) has typically been the public space where neighbours always meet with each other, where collective and personal problems become visible. During the lockdown, this physical space lost all relevance and community networks took over the task of making things visible and therefore, public.

This invisible, digital but real net of phone calls and connections is where solidarity took place, putting in touch neighbours that were not linked before and developing strong social bonds. “It is in the process of mutual recognition and a growing sense of belonging, and mutual support that we believe the European public space is really built,” says Almudena.

The observed community support networks of Zaragoza have proved a wonderful example of how the values of solidarity can be translated into concrete actions, solving specific problems people have been faced during the pandemic.

Grant awarded: €14.700