“Consumption, today, is the most powerful tool we have for changing productive practices.”

Interview with Aina Sancho, the coordinator of ProperESS, the urban communality of Sant Andreu’s neighbourhoods

12/12/2022 - 09:20 h - Climate emergency Ajuntament de Barcelona

Interview with Aina Sancho, the coordinator of ProperESS, the urban communality of Sant Andreu’s neighbourhoods, and the head of Economies for Transition Projects at the Espai Ambiental cooperative.

What are Urban Communalities? And what is their function?

Urban Communalities are a Catalan Ministry of Business and Labour solidarity-economy programme for the region’s socio-economic revitalisation. There are 22 throughout Catalonia and five spread around Barcelona’s districts. The aim behind communalities is to strengthen urban assets, common assets and mutual-support networks so that, in a crisis context such as last year following Covid-19 and as we have now with the economic recession, networks can be generated that help to sustain lives in the neighbourhoods.

Can you tell me a bit more about what common and urban assets are?

Common assets come from the concept “tragedy of the commons”. Anthropologically, as communities, we have managed the resources we had available to us ourselves. We have great examples of communal forests and irrigation communities in the Spanish State. They were communities that self-managed forest resources, the wood and all the biomass, not just for heating but also to make materials or use water to irrigate fields. These would be common assets.

Once we move on to more urbanised and industrialised societies, urban assets are those that are public, which can be managed by an organised community. Urban assets, when managed by an organised community, are an urban common asset. One of the best examples is the Nau Bostik. We have others, such as the guifi.net network, and water management in Terrassa.

Why, then, is it important to promote community self-management of such common assets?

Communal or community management of urban or natural resources is important because that way we can generate an economy based on local-population needs. These would be community economies, that is, economies based on putting community needs at the centre and, by having such a specific centre, there would be no need for an economy based on the accumulation of capital.

If we link communalities and these common assets, how can they strengthen one another?

Socio-economic revitalisation is very important. Revitalisation that is based on a local economy and which strengthens community economies. In this case, communalities are strongly centred on achieving work-insertion and quality-job-creation indicators. We aim to strength the area’s employability.

You are talking a lot about area. Why is networking in the area important?

First and foremost, for personal resilience. Knowing and being aware of what goes on where you live and having support networks or simply friends, makes you feel you’re more local, closer, with a sense of belonging. Having a sense of belonging to a community gives you a certain co-responsibility with it. That then creates an emotional responsibility in you, being the people we are. If that’s our starting point, we won’t engage in destructive or harmful practices either.

Then, the other important thing is when you know and network with what’s around you, you’ve got the information, knowledge and tools, on the resources you have around you. And, based on that, then you’ve also got more possibilities for developing yourself better.

It’s more efficient. We see this a lot with newcomers or people with few roots here, who find it extremely hard to get a job and feel good as they have no network or community.

What is “ProperESS” in this framework?

ProperESS is the Urban Communality of the Sant Andreu district neighbourhoods and our technical team is made up of five organisations from this area as activators, and two cooperatives that have been working in the area for many years now as participants. In order to strengthen the area and give it the right dynamism, we wanted to work with people who have spent many years in it, who know one another and have relationships and links with the people we will be working with.

Our aim is to generate mutual support networks that will help us to sustain our lives in climate terms. We are aware that we are in a context of climate emergency and that the resources that we now obtain globally will be increasingly difficult to obtain. So generating networks where resources are local is what’s going to help us sustain ourselves. We believe that our work areas are key, because they are human needs that are nowadays catalogued as productive assets and which should really become communal assets: the right to affordable and sustainable food; energy sovereignty; or the replenishment of urban resources, which is extremely important when we have a small collapse or difficulties in obtaining materials.

What challenges do you see in the Urban Communalities proposal?

When you’ve got resources to economically activate an area, you can often fall into quite harmful practices such as the institutionalisation of processes and instrumentalisation of individuals to achieve goals.

That’s why we’ve passed the milestone of doing all that from three completely necessary, cross-cutting lines. Care is one, to ensure trustworthy support. One of the others is community culture. We need to strengthen community culture as societies are becoming increasingly individualistic. And, finally, Learning Communities, because all these support and socio-economic revitalisation processes very often become paternalistic. We are aware of resources and tools but knowledge of the area and life that people from the neighbourhoods and districts lead comes from the local residents themselves. Their daily dynamics, and personal and local-residential circumstances create a very important framework.

You were talking about changing the consumption model. Now that the 8th Social and Solidarity Economy Fair is starting, how do you think such fairs can help to boost responsible consumption and the social market?

Consumption, today, is the most powerful tool we have for changing productive practices.

We live in a liberal society where the State does not concern itself in how things are produced. It is we, the consumers, who have the responsibility, within this framework, of showing, through our consumption, what our preferences are. At the Espai Ambiental Cooperative we are managing the revitalisation of fairs, to create a narrative that distances itself a little from the consumerism that Christmas time generates and moves closer to more responsible, aware, sustainable and local consumption. Not just Espai Ambiental but also all the organisations who make up the communality think it’s a really great opportunity to make people aware that another kind of consumption is possible, that it is already happening in the city and that we can do it throughout the year.

Moreover, it is very interesting because you can see that you can get social market products in all productive sectors. You can find food, clothes, culture, electronic products there, and so on.

You mention sustainable clothes, which is the cornerstone of the 8th fair. Why is it so important for us to set our sights on sustainable textiles?

Sustainable fashion is a big issue and, what’s more, a tool that’s helping us to mainstream a whole lot of things, even Barcelona’s history. Textiles and textile production were our thing n Barcelona and the metropolitan area. There were textile mills in Barcelona and Badalona, on the banks of the Besòs and Llobregat rivers, etc. All that is what’s led to economic growth in the area. But it also causes very serious pollution. And Barcelona’s river banks, beds and mouths have long been polluted.

We have lost much of our productive fabric, we’ve gained a forest and river bed, but at the cost of having all these factories move to and polluting another part of the world, and creating global inequalities. Instead of generating local wealth, we’re creating global poverty.

On the other hand, we understand that fashion is something that appeals to everyone. It’s an identity. We are also creating our own brand through sustainable fashion. And that, today, is an issue that will help a great deal to connect with the city’s youth. When you’re young, you need to draw out your own identity and show it. And fashion is one of the tools we’ve got for doing that. A lot of people are becoming increasingly aware, young people who see a pretty bleak future but also see a way, in sustainable fashion, of showing their concerns and how they are eager to change the system. Like this phrase they have, which I love, and goes: change the system, not the climate.

And a final message to conclude the interview?

Hard times are coming. A cold winter is on its way. As we’ve got few resources and energy’s going to be very expensive, why don’t we move closer to one another and share a bit of warmth?