May 18, 2014, 10:54 p.m.

What happens if you replace consensus with creativity?

 

They talk about the public and the private,

we talk about the common.

We don’t talk about the cuidadania (citizenry),

we talk about cuidadania (cultivation).

They call it occupation,

but we call it rehabilitation.

They call us anti-system,

but we are the proper citizens, the neighbours.

We call it – Pumarejo!

 

 

The Platform for the Rehabilitation of the Casa Grande del Pumarejo is a jewel, and we are absolutely grateful Emek, David and Salvador got in touch with us and requested to be part of our Transeuropa caravan trip! As I am writing this I am reliving the moment and it is making me incredibly happy. Thank you Pumarejo for you inspiration from all of us!

 

Pumarejo with its community project “we, the citizens, can do it” (lo hacemos nosotras) is a community centre, a centre of the Pumarejo neighbourhood, a beautiful part of Sevilla. There is an overwhelming amount of planning and activities, creativity, genius, inspiration and love for one another going on. The centre reminds of The Common Room Norwich, which the North-Western caravan (@TEC_NWest) visited on its trip - also a space designed by and for the people of the community. And it reminds of time banking and trade schools, with its own social currency and its crowdfunding and crowdsourcing not only for money, but also for time, skills and items. An amazing initiative worth visiting and learning from.

 

The background story to the Pumarejo community centre is the beauty and cultural heritage of the building itself. In 1770, it was a palace, which is not hard to imagine with its grand entrance and beautiful façade. There are balconies on the front facing the picturesque Pumarejo Square, and in the centre of the building is a patio with lots of flowerpots. There still are some residents in the Casa Grande del Pumarejo – three old ladies who also form part in the activities.

 

The trouble with the beautiful palace is that it is falling apart and the authorities show little interest in restoring this historical treasure. Thus in 2000 the local residents took it upon themselves and joined forces in order to recuperate, rehabilitate and revitalise the Casa Grande del Pumarejo and its intercultural and ethnological values. But this is no easy undertaking. “The pressure of the property crisis is bigger than the right of the people to public space.” The 2002 European urban plan wanted a transformation and there have been several threats to the public heritage. A company almost bought the palace and a hotel also wanted to buy it. But “you cannot monopolise the ownership nor usage of the place. You need the integrity of the diversity of this community.”

 

From 2003 to 2011 the government of Sevilla had no interest in meeting with Pumarejo. The palace is property of the Seville Council. In 2003, the regional government of Andalucía certified the building as a monument in need of protection for the next 15 years. However, the Seville Council does not even want to give it a name or function. Ultimately, the Izquierda Unida signed their support in order to get at the ruling Partido Popular. Although in this instance the fight between the left and right was beneficial to Pumarejo, generally this is of no help to anybody and thus Pumarejo are looking towards the European level for help with its joint community efforts to recuperate, rehabilitate and revitalise Pumarejo.

 

The divided party politics misunderstand what Pumarejo is about: “they talk about the public and the private, we talk about the common.” If we want to use the place for the community, they say we want to privatise. “The people’s spaces are the victims of the fight between political parties.” Pumarejo does not want to be part of this political game. “We don’t talk about the cuidadania (citizenry), we talk about cuidadania (cultivation). We want to look after the space, the values, and the concept of equality. We want a participatory project of recuperation, rehabilitation, revitalization. We may not all be educated citizens in the traditional concept, but we know how to take care of the space.”

 

Pumarejo introduced its own social currency, called ‘the Puma’. The philosophy behind it is to remember the value of people’s times and skills. Every Saturday there is a big market at Pumarejo Square offering products of the house, and people wanting to buy things have to first trade in their Euros for Pumas in order to buy anything. The Euros Pumarejo receives help the community paying bills they cannot pay in Pumas, for example the electricity bill. The market price of an item is based on barter for a puma or another item and of course depends on who is buying and selling what. Services are valued differently depending on whom you trade with. A person that has little for example might have to pay less than somebody who can afford more. The functioning of the Puma is based on trust. Within the community, everyone has a little booklet and an online account where the credit and debit are noted and countersigned.

 

Interesting is also the concept of governance: there is no consensus, no assembly, but there is creativity that guides the activities. Arts form a great part and activities include flamenco, theatre, dance, yoga and a summer cinema. The space is also used by a number of neighbourhood groups. There is a centre for women who are victims of abuse, run by Maribel, offering food and weekly psychological support, as well as lots of other activities. Another group meeting at the Pumarejo space for example is PAH Sevilla.

 

In summer, there are regular kiosks selling fruits and vegetables, there is a bar and there even is a neighbourhood library  - the first public library in Seville! - in the old pharmacy building. People donated 6000 books within a few months only, and a librarian is taking care of the catalogue in her spare time.

 

Pumarejo also makes use of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing. They do not only ask for money, but for items, time and skills, all in the spirit of valuing the people and theirs skills in the network.

 

Recently, the community terminated a huge clean up before its public inauguration. All the neighbours, politicians, the university, everyone was invited. And the plans do not finish here – next up is the creation of a little gardening patch in the patio. Beyond that Pumarejo is looking to establish a network of groups to help with the application for funding and to learn from other initiatives.

 

We spent much more time at Pumarejo than envisioned and by the time we left it was already getting dark. We had been pretty exhausted from the trip, but the spirit and passion of Pumarejo gave us new energy and motivation. We hope our paths will cross again!

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