Dynamizing without gentrifying: the second life of the Carabanchel industrial estate as a cultural and sustainable epicenter

In 1960 it was released The stroller, Marco Ferreri’s film with a script by Rafael Azcona in which an old man Pepe Isbert had as his only vital aspiration to get hold of a motorcycle car so as not to be less than his gang of motorized friends. All those three-wheeled gadgets that populated the roads of developmental Madrid came out of an industrial park in the San Isidro neighborhood, in Carabanchel. It was one of the first in the city, built in 1951 on an old sheep farm almost on the edge of the city. The Isocarro (that’s what the desired Isbert artifact was actually called) was the star product of the polygon and its factory, with a production capacity of 20 units per day, occupied 12,000 square meters.

Around it soon, other ships dedicated to clothing, printing and graphic arts began to be added. But in the 1990s most of these companies had disappeared or had moved to the suburbs. From the year 2000, many plastic artists, desperate to find open spaces with low incomes, discovered a vein in that forgotten place.

Thus, between the streets General Ricardos, Oca, Zaida and Toboso, south of San Isidro, an unprecedented transformation has been generated that has led to Carabanchel Cultural District. This platform, which is responsible for disseminating the project ISO ecosystem, is the result of the union between neighborhood associations, artisan workshops, artists, rehearsal rooms and schools of music and performing arts in the area.

Urgel Space on Calle Urgel 3 in Madrid. Jaime Villanueva

“The peculiar thing is that all this has arisen spontaneously. It took a long time for us to realize the full potential there is here. This is a treasure ”, explains Pilar Balsalobre in her workshop on Avenida de Pedro Diez. She is one of the partners of this platform, of which she is a part through the creative studio photoAlquimia. “The objective is to establish a decentralized cultural nucleus,” adds Carlos Jiménez, the other 50% of photoAlquimia.

Carabanchel, with its seven neighborhoods (including San Isidro), is the most populous district in the capital with 260,000 inhabitants, more than towns such as La Coruña or Vitoria. It is also the fifth behind the tail in gross income per capita with 24,350 euros (according to data from the AEAT of 2018), while the Salamanca district has almost four times more, 95,500 euros. Founded in 2019, Carabanchel Cultural District is a pilot project that seeks to promote different cross-cutting initiatives of all this creative fabric, with a social, economic and ecological component, to advance towards a sustainable urban transformation. “Because now many of our neighborhoods are anything but sustainable,” says Jiménez, who recognizes their alignment with the United Nations 2030 Agenda.

The polygon has also been the object of interest by the European Institute of Design (IED), which opened one of its headquarters here a few years ago, the IED Innovation Lab, in a nice rationalist building. Thanks to its Carabanchel Creativa project, two guides were published last October with tours of the industrial heritage of the neighborhood and they have developed proposals such as Costabanchel, a plan for the sustainable transformation of the Plaza de Almodóvar.

Nearby, on Calle Algaba, is the studio of Isabel Alonso, an artist who has found her workplace in what was previously a mechanical workshop. Around there are more than 40 similar spaces. It is also the home of Casabanchel, an independent association for the promotion and cultural agitation and one of the promoters of the festival. Artbanchel, with three editions already behind him. Espacio Corner and Corner Gallery & Studio are two sister venues that serve as a gallery and studio for half a dozen creators. Its owners, Carlos Cartaxo and Sandra Val, both opened a couple of seasons ago, although they have been working in the neighborhood for almost a decade. “When I arrived there were some artists, but nothing comparable to what is now. The great boom It was from 2015 on, ”recalls Cartaxo.

FabLab is the IED Madrid manufacturing laboratory, located in the new Porto space.
FabLab is the IED Madrid manufacturing laboratory, located in the new Porto space.

Buenos Aires Laura Lio moved to the neighborhood almost 15 years ago to open her atelier in another old garage. She is one of the few who own her workshop. From Carabanchel Cultural District they point out that 95% of these types of spaces are rented, a fact that, added to the real estate pressure to build new homes, makes most of these places of creation hang by a thread.

ISO ecosystem has increased the protection of industrial land use. “If these buildings disappear to build houses, you burden the ecosystem,” says Balsalobre, which emphasizes the need for environmental improvements such as the installation of renewable energy and the renaturalization of rooftops with gardens and orchards. Because the neighborhood has plenty of horizontal roofs. A good example is the terrace of El Observatorio, which lives up to its name. From the roof of these rehearsal premises on Calle Algorta, the second largest in the entire city, you can see half of Madrid, from Plaza de Castilla to Torrespaña, and a good part of the Sierra Norte.

Real estate pressure also affects more prosaic businesses, such as grocery stores. The only thing left of the La Favorita greengrocer is a rickety welcome sign that is not prophetic: “Hello, we are the same people. Better quality, price and treatment ”. At the end of the street, El Solar de Matilde, one of the urban community gardens in the area, still resists, now in danger of disappearing after the initiative of the City Council to sell this plot, public property since 1977, to build new homes.

PhotoAlquimia workshop, designers of Patanel bottle labels, Carabanchel's craft beer.
PhotoAlquimia workshop, designers of Patanel bottle labels, Carabanchel’s craft beer.

“If we look at the density of the creative population, for me this has naturally become the main focus of cultural production in Spain. It is that only in the San Isidro neighborhood there are more than 2,000 musicians rehearsing and about 300 plastic artists. It’s crazy. Something similar has not happened in Madrid for a long time ”. The one speaking is Juan Luis Nieto, owner of Gruta 77, the oldest rehearsal venues in the neighborhood, and also a partner in Carabanchel Distrito Cultural.

Avenida de Pedro Diez is another of the creative epicenters of the area, with powerful centers such as the Mala Fama or Nave Oporto studios, where dozens of artists of all kinds work, or the Madreams rehearsal premises. In the industrial buildings on that street there are also small artisans such as Artcuero, who produce unique pieces, masks and props for theater, film and television. Or the photoAlquimia workshop itself. In one of the many synergies that occur in the ISO Polygon, they have been the designers of the labels of the different bottles of Patanel, the carabanchelera craft beer that has its headquarters a couple of floors below.

Patanel has its own canteen at street level, one of the very few bars in the surroundings. “When we opened it was a success from the first moment, because there was practically no place to have a drink,” says David Ortega, one of its partners, while proudly showing the local football table that, instead of Madrid, Barça or Atleti , has players with the shirts of CD Puerta Bonita and RCD Carabanchel, the two historic teams of the district. He started in 2016 making homemade beer in his bathtub and two years later he had already opened his own micro-factory, which he decided to call Patanel: patanel de Carabanchel. From there they bottle 60,000 liters of beer every year, while they allocate part of their profits to solidarity projects.

A glass of Patanel, Carabanchel's craft beer.
A glass of Patanel, Carabanchel’s craft beer.patanel

“When I was little this was scary at night, because there was absolutely nothing,” recalls Ortega, who has lived in these streets since he was a child and who has become one of the catalysts for the polygon. “If I were selfish, it would be great if nothing else opened up. But it would be a shame for the neighborhood, because it has tremendous possibilities. If there were more venues, people would come from all over Madrid. The bad thing is that with the new housing blocks that has become very complicated ”, he laments.

And here the theme of the dreaded gentrification arises, to which some street graffiti alludes. “If this were to be gentrified, the first victims would be us, because most of us are for rent,” explains Balsalobre. Juan Luis Nieto, who has been putting on concerts there for decades when everything was happening in the center, is of the same opinion. “I do not consider that gentrification is a consequence of the cultural actors working well, but of the voracity of real estate. This is not a thing of hipsters nor is it ever going to be the new Malasaña ”.

The position of the FRAVM also goes along this line. “This has always been an industrial estate,” warns Vicente Pérez. “The artists have not even been the excuse for a possible gentrification. Rather, they are the victims. If you want to consolidate and preserve this, the most urgent measure is the protection of land use, because it is becoming a residential area. The advance of the floors has been throwing the factories that were. And today it threatens this whole new creative sector ”. Before saying goodbye, Juan Luis Nieto concludes with a request. “I only ask the City Council to reflect on what budget for culture it dedicates to a district of 260,000 inhabitants, the same as a medium-sized provincial capital. It is not worth that this budget is devoted almost entirely to the city center, which houses the great museums, cinemas or theaters, because we do not have any of that. If the City Council wants to revitalize the depressed neighborhoods, here it has an unstoppable potential that can turn around all of Carabanchel ”.

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