I normally aim for collaboration rather than competition, but I find myself asked to rank Barcelona organisations which, in response to a wasteful and increasingly ludicrous economic system, offer socially and environmentally responsible alternatives. There are a lot of them. Choosing from groups promoting individual/community change, I based my ratings partly on their efficiency and effectiveness and mainly on how much they inspire. So, if 2013 is the year for you to be the change you want to see in the world, here are my top 5 places to start.
This 1400m2 open space has so much going on I could write a book about it. Started by the Cooperativa Integral Catalana, whose most famous founder Enric Duran has a long history of activism in Catalunya, it is an experiment in self-management where different commissions have evolved and started running working alternatives in an extraordinary range of fields such as health (on-site dentist!), education, finance (the home of Barcelona’s alternative currency the Eco) and more. The doors are open. Maybe start by attending a Thursday lecture or a trade school workshop, or you can buy in to the project to ensure its financial sustainability. // aureasocial.org
COOP57 is the ethical alternative to a savings bank and they’ve been putting invested money to good use since they formed in Barcelona in 1996. Loans are only approved for projects with social capital, that is, projects that have a positive impact for everyone affected, and they specifically seek initiatives that create employment. In 2013, as more individuals become aware that this functioning and financially sound enterprise is a real alternative for savings deposits, they will have even more credit available. If you want to support them but lack savings, have a look at their webpage and read up on their latest campaigns. // coop57.coop
As an organisation this is pretty diffuse but I had to include it because watching urban gardens appear all over the city these last few years is one of the most exciting developments I‘ve seen. In Sant Antoni a small group of us spent a year looking for a suitable space and now have three beds and a few trees in the interior patio of an old people‘s day centre. No, it‘s not cool, but it is another garden. Every time you plant something you are giving the city oxygen, and any food you produce yourself is 0km. The Poble Sec community garden is from a fantasy book; up some awkward steps and behind a shabby looking fence you find a sunny space, with chickens running around. Check the calendar at barcelonaentransicio as well to join in at existing gardens. // huertosurbanosbarcelona.wordpress.com
This is the newest group in the top 5, but has made a promising start and has great expertise behind it. The aim is that anyone in Barcelona can learn about the theory and practice of permaculture (intelligently designing your environment to use external resources responsibly and hyper-efficiently). Over a hundred people went to the initial meeting last year, and they are already working on various practical projects in order to lead by example. Find them at Can Masdeu on Saturdays.// permacultura-bcn.org
The only reason this isn’t higher in the list is that it’s in Sant Martí, that is, miles away. But that’s also what makes it a fine example of participatory community action. Projects are undertaken by locals for locals and core members have been at it so long they’re like family. From their base in the Civic Centre in Sant Martí they organise exchanges of skills or goods, screen documentaries, and explore ways to use energy more sustainably. And as a group they have a stronger neighbourhood voice to implement the change they want. Join them sometime, but the goal is to get something started in your own neighbourhood. //