The sun comes in pieces through a half-open window. The chairs are made of wood and rattle when you move them. The walls are full of posters in which the color red overlaps the white. The letters in black. They announce plays. Noises are heard from a street where few cars pass. Four figures are reflected in a mirror that occupies the entire wall. We are at the Teatro del Barrio, in Madrid.

Carla Rodríguez and Lorena Zárate They are Argentine and say they have known each other before they had gray hair. They have been summoned to participate in a dialogue ecotopic. An exercise to think about what the future will be like in relation to housing. A practical exercise in dreaming.

Carla introduces herself by saying that she was active in student associations and, since the nineties, in the Movement of Occupiers and Tenants (MOI) of Buenos Aires. Families took land and occupied buildings and, in this way, part of the committed sector of the city came together with people from the neighborhoods and town priests. Thirty-five years after that there is a National Federation of Self-Managed Cooperatives: “The objective of the movement has to do not only with self-management in housing but also with life itself,” he says.

When he visited the Uruguayan Federation of Cooperatives for Mutual Aid (FUCVAM), which emerged in 1970 with the purpose of strengthening the right to housing, he thought that the same thing could be possible in Argentina: “To dream the future it is important with whom and how We relate.”

Lorena is from La Plata. It is part of the International Habitat Coalition and the Global Platform for the Right to the City. She was a child during the dictatorship and when she finished studying History and Pedagogy at the university she wanted to be a rural teacher in some corner of Patagonia: “The defense of public schools, linked to liberation theology and popular education, was a hotbed.” very important boiling point, then I had the opportunity to work with people who were dedicated to rethinking the city,” he explains.

In 2001, both participated in the World Assembly of Residents in Mexico: “People came to that meeting who were leaving their neighborhood for the first time, it was a very powerful popular meeting,” says Lorena. From there their lives remained connected.

There are many questions, some intertwine with others and the conversation emerges while the light coming through the window changes location.

The fight for the right to housing

For Carla, what she experienced at the university at the time of the recovery of democracy, with a very active student movement, was key. There she made contact with the ground movements. “I come from several generations of women frustrated with housing. Neither my grandmothers nor my mother had access. He had those injustices etched in his memory. Then I went to study the occupying families and I stayed building an organization together.”

Lorena, for her part, says that she was twelve or thirteen years old when the dictatorship ended in Argentina. “Democracy is not a given, it must be built, it does not sustain itself. I went with my father to the Plaza de Mayo when I was a teenager to defend it because it was very fragile. The dictatorship continued in the power accumulated in some hands and in many of the practices,” she comments. “We came from the murder of students who were fighting for basic rights, education and transportation, for a ticket,” she recalls after stating that, since then, she cannot watch movies where soldiers and torture appear.

Stories that influence

“My great-grandfather told me that he had the dream of building a neighborhood. He was not an urban planner but he dreamed of this. I am now part of that collective subject that thinks about the neighborhoods,” says Carla.

“My grandmothers are from that generation that migrated from the countryside to the city,” says Lorena, who emphasizes that “she was the oldest granddaughter”: “They often opened the trunk of photos and life stories came out. They were the ones who supported the family, also financially. They were strong women although they never called themselves that, but you know it even if they don’t say it. One of my grandmothers wanted to be a philosopher and the other an architect. “They couldn’t study.”

The perception that you can win

“Every youth has to get involved in their fight. After the dictatorship we also had to fight, although it was not very clear towards what future,” says Lorena, who also comments that intergenerational spaces generate hope, places where we can talk about the struggles that can be won: “They generate narratives and spaces of confluence where life is intertwined. Movements like the feminist movement are built from there.”

For Carla, what happens in the future is what we are building today. “Everything that is sown, the way of building the common, of bonding in solidarity, remains in the people. The will for the future has to be walked from today.” She pauses. And she continues: “We were not clear about the model of the future society, but we had some certainties, such as that the fight for human rights and social justice go together. Also that the fight for a dignified life in each place is transformed into concrete issues.”

The activist remembers when they worked in occupied houses and were expelled, which entailed the need to start from scratch: “A new device was generated to prevent dispersion, but for that we had to take care of the girls and boys and then it was necessary to create a garden of childhood. Putting life at the center helped us put the axis somewhere else.”

Someone turns on small indirect lights. It gets dark outside. You have to move to some uneven chairs that are placed in a corner. Green, mustard and black. It looks like the living room of a small house. Background music begins to play that covers everything.

The main obstacles

Carla comments that some of the things that prevent us from thinking that we can win have to do with the State, but that the most important thing is our own beliefs and self-limitations. “We have incorporated the idea of ​​how you can access housing related to private property. It is necessary to build a space with other logics. Listening and looking into the eyes. Bring stories from other places where things could have been done differently. A very important limit is that imposed culture. We must recover the memory of those who knew how to do it differently,” she maintains.

For Lorena, however, “there is a problem of loss of collective and institutional memory”: “Many of what are now considered limited, ‘impossible’ or ‘romantic’ alternatives, at other times were part of the norm, such as cooperative housing in Canada that in the eighties was promoted on a large scale by the state. Public lands and cooperative housing have been consensus and common sense at some times and places, including contexts of great ideological polarization in the midst of the Cold War,” she comments.

What will the year 2065 be like?

Lorena imagines cities where human and non-human life are at the center, and homes are a place of care. A feminist city, different and diverse, necessarily linked to local cultures and actors. “There cannot be more cement, there is no need to build more, it is about looking again and rethinking a territory where there is a lot of unused infrastructure. We must change the production, distribution, consumption and recycling model,” she comments. “Many things must be decommodified, including land and housing. Social goods have to be managed under public-community arrangements”, she criticizes while remembering that big cities are increasingly difficult to live in, they are at odds with nature and expel people.

“Government representatives and experts who meet at the UN present us with monotonous computer-created visualizations of cities, where tall buildings continue to abound, now with many plants hanging but without people walking through the streets or enjoying the squares. The limitation of imaginaries about the city is scary. It would seem that we have no words or drawings to describe the future we need. Recovering other epistemologies, telling the story in another way, can help us think about them,” reflects Lorena.

Carla imagines “a city that interacts in a different way with nature. Greener, with more public spaces, with much more community-based neighborhood situations. I imagine re-functionalizing what already exists and democratizing it.” “When we look for memories or think about the future, the same parts of the brain are activated. Past, present and future is our way of organizing life, but in reality everything happens in a space-time that is inseparable. That is why it is important to rethink what we learn from a past that is always present and experience now the changes that we want to generate in the future.”

It’s already night. They suggest going for a walk a little before they have to sit down again. As always with good conversations, there are questions left for next time.