Madrid , Spain

From Public Space to Common Ground

City of Madrid

October 19, 2011

A public space revitalization program is designed to bring intercultural communities together

The public square. Every city and town has at least one –and many more, if you include parks and boulevards, stretches of waterfront and open air cafes where people gather together, or come alone to watch the world go by.

It is in these public spaces that we most often bump up against our neighbours: we watch their dogs as they sniff out new trees, run into someone who lives down the block, overhear friends arguing about politics and families planning their next day trip. These shared spaces are a literal and metaphorical place for a city’s residents to come together, where communities experience common ground.

Small wonder then that the city of Madrid, looking to promote integration and ease the social changes being brought about by increased immigration, decided to do so by paying attention to its public spaces. In the past 10 years, the immigrant population in Madrid has grown tenfold. Today, more than 17% of the citizens are foreign born, coming from 183 different countries.

In 2009, Madrid’s city council initiated a public space revitalization program, geared specifically to immigrant integration. Born of the Hispanic culture’s tradition of socializing in the city’s streets and open spaces, and increasing use of these spaces by immigrants, the program aims to foster positive interactions between old and new Madrid residents of all cultures, and to develop a shared culture around the use of public spaces in the city.

Common Ground, Shared Spaces

The public space program is part of a larger initiative, the Madrid Plan for Social and Intercultural Coexistence. It was first introduced in 2005 as the Plan de Convivencia to focus on a specific action program in immigration and which established a number of services to promote integration and living together of all citizens. Four years later, Phase Two was launched,  guided by three basic principles:

“The first is universality, by which we undertake to properly tend to all of the inhabitants of Madrid, regardless of their origin or legal status. Then we have the principles of active integration and intercultural coexistence, which highlight the need for the municipal services to absorb the phenomenon of immigration in its entire complexity.” – Foreward

With the aim of developing that last element in particular, the Madrid Plan “focuses on the mechanisms and actions that, beyond mere shelter, allow the full and free incorporation of immigrants into Madrid society”—key among these, the use of public space.

One of its aims is to promote the intercultural knowledge between new neighbours by allowing them to celebrate its traditional cultural events, and creating ways to broaden the Convivencia (living together) in public spaces by supporting intercultural meetings in schools, parks, sporting fields and other city institutions.

Through the Madrid Plan, public spaces in 21 districts across the city are animated by programming designed to stimulate community engagement. Over 50 city outreach agents are active in the city’s parks and squares, promoting activities “aimed at promoting neighbourly co-existence.”

The outreach team is multidisciplinary, multicultural and trained to work with communities of many origins. Activities range from exhibitions about racism, to celebrations of particular ethnic or religious festivals, to sports leagues and intergenerational workshops. Hundreds of activities take place each year (440 between January and October 2010 alone) involving tens of thousands of participants.


Madrid’s public space program has been recognized across Spain and is now included in government case studies of best practices in cities. It has also been recognized by the European Union’s OPENCities project.

Making it Work for You:

  • Public space takes many forms, from parks and city squares, to subways and bus shelters. Has your city thought about how to make these spaces inclusive and welcoming for all community members?
  • Transforming public space into common ground for the community requires  community consultation, and proactive outreach and marketing.
  • Invest in outreach workers to promote awareness of city programming in public spaces and ensure your project is successful.

For this Good Idea contact:

Anna Calamita, Ayuntamiento de Madrid Dirección General de Igualdad de Oportunidades Responsable Programas Inmigración
C/ José Ortega y Gasset nº 100
28006 Madrid, España,
Tel: 914.801.285

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