John Berger said in his book “Ways of seeing” that the true power of representation resides in who looks and what wants to see. The cultural heritage in the city of Madrid has been one more victim of a voracious, excessive and terribly short-term urban model. It is tradition that municipal policies have not wanted to see heritage as an agent capable of contributing to sustainable urban transformation. By denying the capacity that heritage has for regeneration as a dynamic and participatory process, they have nullified the social, economic and environmental benefits that the valorization of heritage pours on citizens.
Thus, in October 2020, the Urban Development Area of the Madrid City Council put out to tender the revision of the catalog of protected elements which is part of the PGOUM 97, leaving out any consultation or form of citizen participation in the preparation of the inventory of elements to be safeguarded, remaining in the hands only, in the first instance, of a technical team whose main focus is on the artistic and the architectural; and ultimately of the political decisions of the municipal government team, with no accountability or explanation of their decisions whatsoever.
In order to correct this evident deficiency, the municipal group Más Madrid presented in January 2021 a proposal in the municipal plenary session which, after negotiation with the Urban Planning Area, was approved by the unanimity of the groups as follows: “this process of Updating and modification of the Catalog will be carried out with the adequate participation of citizens and entities and professionals who are experts in this matter or concerned with the better protection of our heritage, which constitutes an essential value in the development of people and their quality of life”.
However, to date, this process has not begun except for clumsy movements that indicate the total lack of commitment of the council for the catalogs as the first engine of any operation of protection of the patrimony. The chosen procedure escapes the total control of known interests, ignoring the construction of a modern city model, participatory and careful of the cultural environment, for the benefit of the majority against the model again of a few.
The anomalies in this way of understanding public space, vertical and paternalistic, do not end in a suspiciously arbitrary discretion, but this traditional Madrid way of facing cultural heritage also reproduces the invisibility of peripheral districts in front of the historic center, leaving culture in the hands of strange interests unrelated to any modernity and real integration of the entire city.
Indeed, updating the thinking and the patrimonial action generate tension. A tension that cannot obviate the responsibility of the administration to protect and give back to the society to which its patrimony belongs in the broadest and most diverse sense. A catalog of protected elements cannot be understood in the 21st century without a process of open discussion about the very concept of selection, about who and how priorities are set, without a dialogue that establishes what is left out and why, without a critical act of knowing what has been done.
The Faro Convention (signed by Spain on December 12, 2018), emphasizes the important aspects of cultural heritage in relation to human rights and democracy. It promotes a broader understanding of heritage and its relationship with communities and society. It encourages citizens to recognize that objects and places are not “in themselves”, but are valuable because of the meanings and uses that people give them and because of the values they represent. Circumstances such as the monumentality, age or rarity of a monument must be evaluated together with the rest of the driving forces that lead citizens to value (or not) these assets (Fouseki and Sakka). The quality-quality binomial cannot be (only) the common thread in cultural heritage protection policies.
Heritage values are identity nutrients. Heritage defines and explains us as a society and we can only assume this if we take into account that heritage is a changing reality and it is citizenship that projects values, that is why we must invest in knowing what those values are (cultural, environmental, historical, sentimental, scientific …). Often part of these values go unnoticed in our collective narrative and therefore mechanisms or tools will have to be generated to rescue this diverse and dispersed reality. The ideal and spiritual components of goods are as or more important than the materiality itself linked to the nineteenth-century concept of “fine arts”. The pasts are complex and the futures must be as diverse as the community claims.
Caring (valuing) is both recognizing people who have been part of the past, and those who are part of the present as depositaries of that life in community. Building inventories, catalogs or lists of any kind, must necessarily give them a representative value, including citizen participation as an element of visibility in the urban decisions that make up their territory.
Faced with the question of how to respond to all these challenges without being part of the government, Más Madrid, as a political platform, whose social function is far beyond mere institutional political activity, in order to provide a tool that facilitates and develops the understanding of cultural and natural heritage as the physical support of the collective memory of the city and its identity, we have created a form Simplified registration to form a participatory and citizen catalog that remains as a record of what citizens value and want to keep for future generations:
Its intention is none other than to give a voice to the districts in the elaboration of discourses on heritage and its articulation with society and to serve as a future support for that collective memory. This catalog is not intended to be an alternative to the “official” one, but rather complementary. It is not a criticism of institutional professionals, but a look at broadening horizons and criteria. It is not a closed catalog, but dynamic and in constant construction, because cultural heritage with an expiration date is not understood. The motivation is to develop a catalog that should avoid the fragmentary vision of goods in favor of an integrative, coordinated and critical vision. And, in addition, it is a particular invitation to take a walk through Madrid with a cultural perspective.
As Koichiro Matsuura (director general of UNESCO between 1999-2009) said, heritage is not only the seat of the memory of yesterday’s culture, but also the laboratory where tomorrow is invented.