Small communities of determined people who are committed to a way of life, can turn abandonment into vitality, ruins into homes, and inactivity in shared wealth. Rebuilt towns are radical examples of thinking one’s life as an integral option that we can shape from the bottom up with our cherished ones, creating a shared economy based on making and selling valuable things for others.
If swamps could speak, their words would transport us to a rural Spain that decided to evacuate hundreds of villages during the 50’s in order to implement the “National Hydrographic Plan.” There are precious posts and photographs of those flooded villages, magical stories of bells ringing on key dates, and other popular legends born from nostalgia and pagan deification of the earth.
But today’s story is about those saved at the last moment, those that, despite being classified as endangered by possible floods, were not reached by rising waters. Stripped of population, the weeds grew in tandem with the cracks on the roofs and facades. Soon, those villages became the image of desolation. They fell into administrative oblivion until they became a problem. What could be done with all those sites in ruins that represented a potential danger and even a cost to the State?
Classified as public domain, during the ’80s, the government started to negotiate the concession of their use for a limited period – about 50 years – in exchange for their rehabilitation and repopulation. At that time, unions took over various locations, now converted into resorts, schools, or craft-production centers.
Communitary models for various lifestyles
Near the Gabriel y Galán reservoir in Extremadura is Granadilla. Due to its artistic heritage, public agencies were responsible for its rehabilitation and revitalization model. It was decided to turn it into a school workshop in which young people from different parts of Spain learned a trade and enjoyed an experience of contact with rural life.
A completely different experience is found in Navarra, near the Usoz dam. Lakabe was occupied in the early 80’s by a small group of young people seeking to live in contact with the earth in a secluded and austere environment. Throughout this time, the community has grown to become one of the main leaders of the ecovillage movement.
With a libertarian approach, CGT carried out the recovery of Ruesta, in the romanic heart of Zaragoza, on the banks of the Yesa swamp. Conceived as a creative social space where conferences and congresses of social and artistic content were held, today it is in the process of transforming itself into an ecovillage. Morillo de Tou, in the Aragonese Pyrenees, near the Mediano reservoir, was restored for tourism and rural purposes by CC.OO. Its economic model is based on services and activities related to tourism in a holiday resort context.
Nearby, there is Ligüerre de Cinca, expropriated to build the dam of El Grade. The project, carried out by UGT, began under the cooperative formula with less than a dozen people, whose aim was the reconstruction of the town for using it as a resort. Today they have developed a sophisticated and quality offer, recovering the vineyards and launching their own winery, a spa featuring enotherapy, a hotel for events, and personalized packages, being able to accommodate up to 800 people in the holiday season.
Building one’s own life
These are communal adventures that have entailed common effort and hard work to achieve a sustainable economic model and commitment to the surrounding environment. Each of these examples has consolidated a community and has built different life models for its members.
They are radical examples of thinking of one’s own life as an integral option that we can shape from the bottom up with our loved ones, creating a shared economy based on making and selling valuable things for others.
This is a way of doing things that once again claims leadership after seven long years of crisis. Many will be moved by the need to find alternatives, others by a life option, an ongoing conversation, or both. Perhaps they are only marginal experiences in an economy going in another direction. Maybe they are the new settlers of an increasingly empty and unproductive countryside.
But what is certain is that that first generation of recovered villages, the people who made a life choice based on the act of rebuilding, show how small communities of determined people who are committed to a way of life can turn abandonment into vitality, ruins into homes, and inactivity into shared wealth.
Translated by Alan Furth from the original in Spanish.