Ada Colau and her Model of a City

Ada Colau

Source: Ricardo Patriño (2013), cc-by-sa-2.0

Jordi Pérez Colomé, Barcelonan journalist of the Spanish digital newspaper El Español, recently contacted me because he was doing a piece on Ada Colau, founding member of Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca [Platform for People Affected by Mortgages] and candidate for mayor of Barcelona. The elections will be held May 24th, and currently the polls have Colau in the lead. He had a couple of questions for me, mostly about Colau’s past as an okupa (a politically motivated squatter). One of the more pointed questions was about Colau’s political experience. He doubted how much of a model of a city one could have if all one had done in the last ten years was fight for housing rights.

I would argue that housing rights inform how one approaches city development. Colau attacks a predominantly consumption-based strategy of urban growth and design, and redirects the political discourse from the “Barcelona Model” and the image of a showcase city to social justice and the image of a city of and for the people. Colau is opposed to a form of urbanism that cashes in on spectacular architecture as visual commodity to be sold to tourists. Public space, in this type of city development, becomes not a space of true encounter but one of manufactured and controlled interaction safe for tourists and investors. So, the more damaging question would be: How much of a model of a city could one have if one has not fought for housing rights?

The full article can be read here. He cited me with regard to Colau’s involvement with the squatted social center Miles de viviendas. Some newspapers have criticized Colau because of her okupa past. She is called an okupa because it will be perceived as politically damaging by some. To have an okupa past is to have a criminal one. Having said that, the okupas of Miles de viviendas did consciously avoid the okupa aesthetic of a punk in order to move the focus from what an okupa looks like to what an okupa does. Colau is sympathetic to the okupas, but does not share their approach to social, economic and political transformation. She seeks to reform the State whereas the okupas look to foment change outside of institutions.

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