What to do in the event of a wreck. Right to the City Lab Notes


The Spanish group underwent a drastic change with the arrival of the pandemic. Their aim was to mapping of the labor precariousness in the tourist sector hits an iceberg and we are about to collapse, but suddenly they found themselves shut away in a city without tourists. In this post, it is explained how they collectively addressed a change of direction in their project.

What to do in the event of a wreck. Right to the City Lab Notes


Ship’s logbook

September 2019: we meet some members of Jartura, a collective denouncing gentrification and touristification of Seville in creative ways. They have recently published a campaign where people has shared their stories about labor precariousness. They want to work that idea further and the Hackcamp is the right place to do it!

October 2019: they participate in The City is Ours Hackcamp in Seville, this is the first local activity that we have in Seville related to MediActivism and we have around 10 activists from the city. This idea is worked further in a group: a participatory platform denouncing labor conditions in the field of tourism is developed by a group of eight persons with different professional and cultural backgrounds.

November 2019: we decide to keep working on that idea during the Right to the City Labs, the next step of the project. It’s an ambitious idea at the very core of our campaign. We hear of people having to pee in buckets because they can’t stop driving a tourist bus; some others with no rest at all between working days. Many workers are willing to share their own story.

February 2020: we decide to open up and be as transparent as possible. For example, we share the budget of the activity and ask our participants to collectively decide how to spend it. Everything goes as smooth as possible, the group has worked very well together, the plan advances and we get to a landmark: everything is developed in theory and now we just need to technically develop the platform with Montera34 and to start the campaign asking people to tell their stories.

March 2020: well, there is no spoiler here, you know what’s coming: the covid-19 pandemia arrives to Spain and we start a lockdown. Floods of tourists disappear from the streets of Sevilla from one day to the other. Forecasts say we won’t get to the same levels of tourism in at least two years. We have a zoom meeting to certify the death of our campaign.

Our mapping of the labor precariousness in the tourist sector hits an iceberg and we are about to collapse. We digitally meet to explore ways to cover the hole that is sinking our ship. Ok, let’s stop the logbook here one moment. Not every group of people is capable of overcoming a moment like this. Sometimes the frustration caused by the unexpected event is too sharp, sometimes forces are declining, or other responsibilities push people away.

And let’s confront the fact: there are many great things about being able to plan a three year Erasmus+ funded project as MediActivism (guaranteed sustainability for a relatively long period, partnership with great organisations or having bigger ambitions in terms of social transformation), but we are also signing a contract that rarely takes into account the flexibility needed to adapt to a constantly changing context. There are thousands of political, cultural and social reasons for a plan to vary along the way. It’s true that the European Commission reacted pretty quickly to the pandemia, offering certain flexibility to Erasmus+ grantees; but it’s also a fact that we found ourselves in the dilemma between producing an output (a map of labor precariousness in the tourist sector) that wouldn’t have any utility or spending way more time and efforts than expected and that won’t be paid by the project. We, as a group, chose the second option, but we also think that there still is a pending debt on the side of the European funded projects on how to accept failure. As simple as that. Failure is one of the main sources of human learning, and we, as grantees, are usually denying it, fearing that we’ll have to give the money back or that we won’t receive any more funding in the future. We believe that these projects shouldn’t be about avoiding failure at any cost (which usually pushes people to produce outputs that are, how to say, a bit socially useless), but about helping us to fail -and learn- better and to readapt more freely.

Continuing with the logbook: April, May 2020: the group struggles to overcome the situation. We try to cover the hole in our ship’s deck with regular zoom meetings but we go from one idea to the other without knowing where to stop. Even if the city council has announced that they will spend 2 million euro in rebranding the city to attract post-covid tourists (good luck with that!), we know we want to reorient our Right to the City Lab towards a reflection on the post-covid city and its citizens, but the shape we know not.

June 2020: we gather for the first time in a room since the beginning of March. I look at their masked faces during the meeting, amazed at their commitment during this frightening period. Some of us didn’t do great, ZEMOS98 would have understood if some of them had stepped aside. Even though we remained together working from scratch. After having discussed a thousand ideas during three months, we land on something specific that is finally not that different from the mapping that we planned at the beginning. Instead of mapping the precariousness on a seriously damaged tourism sector, we are going to map the post-covid city by asking citizens to share their demands about how the city is managed. And we will confront the official brand of the city with the citizens’ perspective. Let’s see what comes out of it!

Lessons learnt

  • Having a committed local group with a relationship based on transparency and mutual understanding is crucial both to have good results and to confront unexpected situations.
  • This moves our role in a -sometimes- imperceptible way from project managers to mediators; from thinking in an activity based way towards stressing the importance of adapting the project mechanisms and activities to the local needs of the project.
  • Nevertheless, healthier and more transparent relationships in the local context shouldn’t work as a subtle way of letting the consequences of unexpected events drop towards the side of participants.