The challenge of community-managed spaces can be many - from interactions with authorities and legal issues to ensuring the space is truly responsive and respectful of community members. I gained insight into some of those issues through conversations with a resident active with Esta es una Plaza and through attendance at one of their monthly meetings.
The member shared with me a few challenges they’ve faced and how they’ve dealt with them. One issue has been children’s birthday parties – many families wanted to have their child’s birthday party at Esta es una Plaza, but it went against their principle of not having private events. The compromise they came up with was that there would be one day every month for collective birthday parties. Another issue was with teens who ditch school and come to Esta es una Plaza to smoke and drink, and leave a mess. Active organizers talked with the youth and said they could continue using the space, because kicking them out would be against their mission as a public space, but compromised by having the teens agree to care for the space and have a representative come to the monthly meetings.
Through my attendance at one of the meetings, I observed first-hand how members work through these challenges to find a mutually agreeable solution; in this case, it was the challenge of keys to the gate. The issue was that so many had been given out over the years yet those people didn’t know what it meant to have a key – the responsibilities that come with a key of upholding norms and principles of the space and ensuring the gate isn’t opened just for private use. Almost every attendee had a suggestion, from changing the lock and starting over with key distribution to having all key holders required to come to certain meetings. In the end, the issue was tabled to move on to other agenda items.
A second issue that came up at the meeting was having a dinner for the leadership group around the upcoming solstice. They discussed how it would be nice to have it private just for them, but that would mean locking the gate which, again, goes against a core value of being a public space.
These discussions demonstrate the challenges between maintaining an open, non-hierarchical, democratic space and keeping it managed. Open does not mean a free for all so there needs to be some way of regulating without regulating to the point that it’s no longer open – a difficult balance. And there are naturally a smaller group of individuals that take on the responsibility of management, but with a non-hierarchical and open system, they don’t get any more power or privilege, not even a designation as a manager or member or coordinator. Though they have found ways to compromise and solve challenges, self-managed spaces are constant work and require dedication of those committed to the space to maintain core values and continue giving their time.