Esta es una Plaza began in 2008 as a vacant spaces workshop with Casa Encendida. Previously, it was a silver factory and a cement factory, and then empty for 40 years. The workshop was a 15 day experiment done in conjunction with the municipality. It sparked interest in the community to continue using the space building out a garden; however, after the workshop, their use of the space was illegal. Construction in the neighborhood resulted in materials taking up parking spaces on the street. Displeased with this, the head of the neighborhood association, one of the oldest in Madrid and very strong with an old-school leader, solicited to city to store the materials on the Esta es una Plaza lot and so the city bulldozed what they had built. This interaction is demonstrative of the tensions and different approaches to community-government relations of the traditional neighborhood associations and the newer activists.
Nevertheless, the activists rebounded after the destruction of their space, protesting, conducting collective activities, and continuing to access the lot. They have petitioned the city for legal access to the lot but the city said they needed to form an association. They did form an association and proposed a public contract to the city as a way to legalize their access, but the city did not accept this idea. After more than five years, they are still struggling to reach a legal agreement with the city.
Yet Esta es una Plaza continues to serve as a lively community space today with a garden, weekly bicycle workshop, radio, children’s play area, theater space, and plenty of seating and shade for meetings, socializing, and relaxing. All activities are free of charge, public, and there is no exchange of money on site. They’ve hosted workshops through which they’ve designed and built a bamboo structure, adobe oven, and seating areas. Afternoons and evenings are filled with children playing; when the sun starts setting (as late as 9pm in the summer), the families head home and youth and young adults continue hanging out in the space enjoying a beer; around 10pm somebody comes through and announces they’re closing and locks the gate.
There are 20-40 active members who have been involved in planning the space and coordinating these regular activities through their monthly meetings. Monthly meetings are open to anybody and they address any challenges or upcoming plans. Members bring snacks to share, pass around babies to keep entertained, and a volunteer moderates, keeping track of whose turn it is to speak, making sure everybody gets their chance, and ensuring nobody is cut off or interrupted while speaking.