top of page

Urban Policies in Culture

Σelf-management and localized decision-making are not practices that were established out of nowhere in Barcelona; rather they both had lasting legacies. Self management traditions can be traced back to the Ateneums but more recently, in the 80s, to gestio civica (civic management) whereby the management of Civic Centres was ceded to community-based organization which were funded for doing so (Bianchi, 2022:11). On the other hand, neighbourhood movements with a strong and lasting rootedness in the neighbourhood, who voice demands and claims over a facility and a will to develop and run a project for/with the local people. This rootedness places extra pressure to the Council when claims are voiced and decisions over facilities and funding are taken. (Pera, 2020, p. 4). Pera observed whilst in the 80s and 90s the facilities tended to be claimed by neighbourhood associations, in the following decades the main actors were platforms of movements (ibid). In her research she notices a change in the discourse of reclaiming facilities for direct management: from distrust towards the city council to resistance to privatization and private outsourcing that was promoted in the 2000s and particularly since the economic crisis (Pera 2020:5; Martí-Costa and Tomàs, 2017).

However, civic management of the past was faced with significant difficulties and thus the Platform for Citizen Management was established in 2011 in order to improve the rules concerning civic management (ibid). Since Centres Civics are still part of the City Council’s facilities their self-management capacities were somehow limited (ibid) and as a result many grassroots projects rented a Council property rather than managing one. Bianchi points out (ibid:11-12) that these latter spaces were referring to community rather than civic management, “a management form based on autonomy and self-government”. Barcelona en Comu (2015) expressed their will to support public-commons/community management and decision-making and Patrimonio Ciudadad (Citizens assets managed and used by the community) was developed a crucial programme for the Council (17/11/2017).

Pera and Bianchi (2022: 115) describe civic management as a “legal‐political category that includes public facilities—cultural centres, community centres, youth clubs, and more—owned by the city of Barcelona, which is governed by the Barcelona City Council (henceforth City Council), and transferred to the non‐profit grassroots organisations that manage them: civic management facilities (CMFs).” Furthermore they argue that civic management facilities “represent a very particular type of commons, since the facilities are owned by the City Council, which temporarily cedes their management to the grassroots organisations and provides a yearly financial subsidy to contribute to their functioning and work in the community. In short, CMFs are commoning practices that are enacted through hybrid institutional configurations.” (Pera and Bianchi, 2022, p. 116). Nevertheless, these configurations come with limitations since the administration might have other priorities or bureaucracies and restrictions that need to be addressed.

The three key elements of programme’s organization consist of (a) the agreement or pact, (b) a “counter-hegemonic use of the law” (Mauro Castro Coma and Laia Forné Aguirre, 2021:page) and (c) new institutions that “combine spaces of social autonomy with public with the public function” (ibid).


The programme’s framework includes the Citizens Assets Board and Citizens Assets Catalog, the Community Balance Sheet (which articulates the criteria for (self) evaluating the community/commons management of the asset. The process of evaluation that wouldn’t reproduce technocratic and business oriented approaches has been an important aspect and was developed in cooperation with the city’s social economy sector. As explained, the indicators are categorised in four fields integral to the community process (Mauro Castro Coma and Laia Forné Aguirre, 2021):

  • Territorial rootedness. The projects must be oriented to the needs of the territory and the extent to which they contemplate activities with the different actors of the territory: associative, social or cultural.

  • Impact and social return. The projects must respond to the community impact and the expected positive externalities; and whether or not there are external beneficiaries to the project, etc.

  • Democratic governance. Projects need to establish what are the mechanisms to enable democratic internal governance; what channels of participation are foreseen; and the degree of openness and accessibility of the project. The degree of transparency and accountability spaces.

  • Care for people, processes and the environment. Projects must demonstrate a commitment to the fundamental ethical principles and values of quality of work and compliance with Human Rights and the promotion of diversity; the degree of gender equality and parity, valuing the existence of a project that incorporates the gender and diversity perspective, and commitment to the values of environmental sustainability and energy saving.

Urban Policies in Culture

Private Initiatives in Culture

During the years of the crisis, urban social movements and initiatives re-emerged in Barcelona and throughout Spain) in order to respond to austerity and to defend the right to housing (D’Adda , REF; Martí-Costa and Tomàs, 2017, p. 12). As many pointed out (REF) the two more prominent and influential movements, both nationally and in Catalonia, were the PAH (which we will see below) and the Indignados / Squares movements. Nevertheless, a whole range of local, bottom-up initiatives also emerged with a multitude of aims and practices not least providing support and solidarity for those affected, contributing to the politicization of claims such as housing and self-management and contributing to the conceptualization and implementation of new forms of local / municipal governance (see New municipalism further on). These included “self-managed cultural and social centres, working cooperatives, time banks, parenting groups, and consolidated urban social movements (Cruz, Martínez Moreno and Blanco, 2017).” (Bianchi, p. 7)


Barcelona’s long history of neighbourhood associations, cooperativism and self-management (García-Ramon and Albet, 2000 Pera, 2020, p. 3) played a critical role in grounding movements to the neighbourhood level but also in forming the new municipal arrangements of Barcelona en Comu. However, Bua and Bussu (2021:9) argue that “the Trias administration was tolerant of as they were coherent with neoliberal rollout by helping to meet social needs without state involvement (Belando 2016). However, such ‘bottom-linked’ (Pares et al. 2017) forms of social innovation went beyond service delivery and were politicised in ways connected to claims for the right to the city” (Bua and Bussu, 2021, p. 9)

Commoning Practices in Culture

The Case of Can Batlló

Can Battlo is one of the best known cases of claimed self-managed facilities and citizens patrimony. Can Battlo is a (13000m2) former textile complex built in 1879 in La Bordeta neighbourhood (Sants-Montjuic); a neighbourhood with industrial production that also attracted a significant working class population and subsequently developed local cooperatives, mutual aid associations and Ateneums (Sánchez Belando, 2017, p. 3). After its closure neighbourhood activists were campaigning since 1976 in order turn it into a social space for the people of Sants (ibid, Zechner, 2020) and they further supported their claims by pointing out the 1976 General Metropolitan Plan which designated part of the complex to the development of public housing, facitilities and green spaces (Sánchez Belando, 2017, p. 4)

By 2009 they gave the then City government an ultimatum stating that if they didn’t start redeveloping the complex they would take over the building and they started the Tic Tac CB campaign to gain visibility and support and to exert further pressure on the city government. In the midst of broader mobilizations in 2011 and just before leaving the Council, the Catalan Socialist Party handed one of the factory buildings to the local activists (ibid). From that point on, bit by bit, more spaces were claimed and transformed to many different spaces and workshops (Zechner, 2020). As Sánchez Belando, 2017, p. 4 comments, “The incorporation of actors as CB in the governance of the socio-cultural field introduces a new balance between social, market and state actors ”.

The first activities established in Can Battlo were projects of training and repair (woodwork, bicycle repair, electro-mechanic repair) as well as the library which was seen as a major hub for community engagement (ibid). Other spaces for workshops, cultural and social activities were also included such as the Intergenerational Meeting Point, the Conference room, the Green zone as well as the Arcadia School, an educational cooperative that opened at the complex in 2018. The main decision-making and deliberation body is the Assembly. Ad Sánchez Belando, 2017, p. 5 explains, the Can Battlo’s “governance model is influenced by the cooperative tradition of the neighborhood and by organisational and decision-making practices from the social movements, especially in the recent history of urban activism but also by the lessons learned regarding the limits of an institutional participation system.” Thus “The accumulation of these experiences has resulted in a model that mixes mechanisms that promote participation from both individuals and associations as well as different levels of commitment (Asamblea CB, 2012; Plataforma CB, 2013).” (Sánchez Belando, 2017, p. 5)

In 2019, and after numerous meetings and workshops with the Council, other actors (such as Hidra Cooperative), and local actors/activists Can Battlo complex was declared as citizens’ heritage (the category developed through Patrimonio Ciudadano) and was transferred to Can Battlo Platform for 30 years with the possibility of extension for another 20 (Ayuntamiento de Barcelona 2019b; 2019c). Every year, Can Battló’s assembly has to go through self-evaluation, based on criteria elaborated jointly with city officials, to assure the project is functioning and open to the public. This accountability procedure is based on an evaluation protocol of the network of social and solidarity economy initiatives” (Zechner, 2020)

The City Council managed to convince about this transfer by arguing that it would be financially more beneficial if it was ceded than if it was run by the municipality.

The Case of Can Batlló
bottom of page