In late September 2022, we landed in Barcelona. Over the course of our trip, we visited locations across Spain, but here we focus on Barcelona’s Sants neighborhood, a post-industrial working-class community, due to its unique co-op legacy, the community’s social fabric, and its infrastructure and governance.
Immediately upon arriving in Sants—which sits at the heart of the Catalonian autonomous movement and solidarity-economy organizing—organizers from Buffalo commented on how familiar Sants felt, resembling their own postindustrial, working-class Rust Belt city. At rush hour, the sidewalks were filled with the strollers and walkers of the young and old, who moved through their morning routine alongside students and businesspeople.
Yet, there were some important differences between the two cities. So-called “urban renewal” had not displaced the neighborhood’s nineteenth-century factory buildings, as it had done in Buffalo. Instead, the buildings had been redeveloped for mixed use and housed cooperatives and community-governed institutions of every kind—housing co-ops, credit unions, worker co-ops, cooperative daycares and schools, radical bookstores, social centers, and community gardens. All of these were connected into value chains (that is, they trade with one another) and organized into general assemblies, creating economic value and exerting political power on behalf of the community in which they are rooted.