Casa Weekly

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Rethinking the Casa

Since the break-in at the Casa a couple of weeks ago, lots has happened. We've had a staff retreat with CatComm's 7-person Rio-based staff. We've also held an open meeting where about 20 community leaders came, to give their input, and to which about 20 others sent comments via email. We've been considering the situation in light of our planned changes incorporated in our 3-year plan.

Concerns were shared by local leaders in the neighborhood where the Casa is located that a move would strengthen the local Catholic Church´s position as they buy up property in their move to "Humanize" (yes, that´s what they are calling their program in this historic neighborhood) the area. Local leaders who have been struggling against this local order of the Church's program to remove residents and put in their place "social programs" are concerned because CatComm's Casa is the only building left in a 2-3 block radius that the Church has not yet taken hold of.

On the other hand, Catalytic Communities did not rent the Casa in this neighborhood, called Morro da Conceição in the Saúde region of the city, because our focus was on preserving this particular area. Rather, we chose the Casa there at the time because of other factors: (1) it was a very central location in terms of transportation networks from all over the region; (2) it was a house, rather than a building, and thus more inviting and comfortable to people from throughout the city; (3) there was a strong community around the Casa, with residents up and down the street; among others. At the time we were focused on creating a space for community leaders to find each other. What we realized as a result of the trial period with this space from February 2003 to today, is that another critical element we could bring to community groups were we to locate elsewhere in the downtown is VISIBILITY, a quality many of the community organizers that use the Casa have been asking for.

A larger, more visible location within the urban fabric would also allow the Casa to develop some income generation activities, like fair trade sales of community art and handicrafts on the first floor, low cost rental of rooms by community programs, a community radio station with regular capacity-building trainings, and more. We could provide more computers and peripheral technology we do not currently offer community leaders, including printing. And a larger meeting space where community performances could also be held.

Ideas could be gleaned from other experiences like the San Francisco Women's Building, Provisions Library in Washington, DC, and a similar initiative in London, England.

As a result of this dilemma, we ended the open meeting debate with local leaders deciding to put this to a vote among ALL the 600-800 community leaders who frequent the Casa. We will be locating other properties and putting the move to a vote.

The exciting news is we´ve been offered a low rent, large house in Lapa, a central neighborhood in Rio with lots of foot traffic where community projects would garner much greater visibility...

More soon...