The “Convention on the Use of Space” is a legal instrument drafted between March and May 2015 in the Netherlands as a response to the housing crisis: the lack of affordable homes, absence of provisions for those without legal right to stay, rising rents, and the criminalization of squatting.
The Convention was written through a series of public drafting assemblies where the document was created, amended, critiqued, and transformed into the version you read today. The writing process engaged a diverse range of participants: lawyers, activists, academics, squatters, researchers, and cultural workers. Future public reviews will be held in different European countries with the hope of producing a “European Convention on the Use of Space”.
The Convention considers space a “good” that should not be privatized for profit. It states that certain uses of space create values that cannot be quantified by the market, and that “empty” spaces (abandoned or used for speculation), should be occupied to produce non-marketable uses. Non-marketable uses cover a wide range of activities: living, sharing knowledge and skills, occupying space in protest, running cooperative systems of wealth and labour distribution, providing mental and physical support, or the taking of space in order to protect it from environmental destruction.
A convention acts as a contract, the parties that sign it—organizations, housing cooperatives and associations, municipalities, individuals, movements, collectives, among others—are bound to its principles and to following its agreed upon guidelines.
The Convention can be used as a supporting document in court and affixed in spaces threatened with eviction. It can be used to make a claim to a space, with the intention that the more people who sign and use it the more a grassroots use of space will be achieved as a result. The legitimacy of the document is derived from those organizations, associations, collectives, houses, trade unions, groups, individuals, and municipalities that feel affinity to the document, sign it and endorse its contents. These signatories abide by the Convention and can be guarantors for articles and their values. In turn, this growing community puts political pressure on existing institutions to recognize its legality.
Yes and No. The “Convention on the Use of Space” was written with the assistance of lawyers and has a legal form. However, it is an unconventional legal instrument, in that it uses a legitimate legal form to make claims that are currently not legal. For example, the Convention claims rights for migrants without legal status, and states that occupation of space cannot be considered criminal.While this document alone cannot protect those who use space under its premises, it can provide an explanation of the motives behind an action and unite the struggles against the marketability of space and housing.
There is no European law currently protecting the urban commons, so we decided to write one!While the European Union does not currently hold common legislation on housing (each country legislates individually), there has been a steady decrease in protecting the notion of a city “for all” through de-regulation in the housing market and the lack of protection of public assets across Europe.
Existing Housing legislation in various European countries has become more exclusive and repressive. Examples of this are the criminalization of squatting in the UK (2012) and the Dutch squatting ban (2010). According to the UK “Homes Not Jails” report by SQUASH the criminalization of residential squatting has lead to 588 arrests of homeless or vagrant people between 2012–2015. In Spain, a draconian mortgage law states that even if you lose your home because you are unable to keep up with your repayments you still have to repay the bank, leading to an unprecedented number of evictions. In a housing market awash with unscrupolous investors, urban spaces are no longer being perceived as possibilities provided to all, irrespective of privilege, for a range of uses (from living to gathering), but rather as spaces that only have value in relationship to their market value.
‘Movement-perspective legislation’ is a term used by criminologist and activist Deanna Dadusc to describe legal frameworks that are deliberated and written in public. This process is an active attempt to re-democratize and break the chain of command inherent in the current way the law is produced and performed. The legitimacy of the document is derived from those organizations, associations, collectives, houses, trade unions, groups, individuals, and municipalities that feel affinity to the document, sign it and endorse its contents. These signatories abide by the convention and be guarantors for articles and their values, in turn, this growing community puts political pressure on existing institutions to recognize its legality.
Contrary to common legislation this kind of lawmaking cannot be enforced through repression, policing, and state-sanctioned violence. It makes legal claims through declaring that the laws currently in place are unrepresentative of the needs of many who do not support the deprivation of livelihood they are subjected to in spheres such as housing, education, and employment. This requires familiarizing with current laws, legal concepts, and theory in order to make informed claims leading to a process that is profoundly empowering for the people who take part in it. Furthermore movement-perspective legislation unites various groups currently fighting for similar causes under an alternative legislative framework which they can support and participate in writing without corporate interest playing a role in what kind of content is produced.
The Convention was initiated through a collaboration between Adelita Husni-Bey and Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory. Members who participated in the writing process, by being in the room and/or speaking, except those who wished to remain anonymous or otherwise:Maryama Omar Abdi, Aris, Carlijn Bakker, Charles Beckett, Merve Bedir, Thomas Bragdon, Emilia Bruck, Tino Buchholz, Juliette Callebaut, Lotte Calmeier, Binna Choi, Deanna Dadusc, E.T.C. Dee, Fanny Desvachez, Lara Garcia Diaz, Maria Doelman, Eric Duivenvoorden, E.C. Feiss, Lucy Finchett-Maddock, Roel Griffioen, Aetzel Griffioen, Abel Heijkamp, Jehanne Hulsman, Anna Ioannidi, Jaca, Marcel Schuckink Kool, Frans Willem Korsten, Annette Krauss, Yunjoo Kwak, Marck, Aisling Marks, Margot Nahan, Christian Nyampeta, Jaap Oosterwijk, Hans Pruijt, Ying Que, Alejandro Ramirez, Doran Schmaal, Claudia Schouten, Tasos, Alite Thijsen, Suzanne Tiemersma, Tina, Galen Alexis Treuer, Toshiya Ueno, Elke Uitentuis, Rahul Uppal, Yolande van der Heide, Milan van der Hulst, Arthur van der Laaken, Moira van Dijk, Jeroen van Ommen, Lori van Vlerken, Liselotte van Vliet, Reinaart Vanhoe, Amber in’t Veld, Mariëlle Verdijk, Agnes Verweij, Erica Volpini, Jason Waite, Lindsay Weber, Odile Zaït.
While the “spirit” of the document will not change, some parts of the Convention may be revised, challenged, and elaborated on with new articles to be added by future reviewers. Every year, signees will receive notice of revision meetings and the new copy of the Convention and can decide whether to maintain or withdraw their signature from that revised document.
Every year the Convention will be revised, debated, critiqued, and written to respond to a locality. In this way different European chapters will eventually produce the “EU Convention on the Use of Space.” This “traveling” will allow the convention to be a viable tool to unite struggles across spaces and spread across countries. There are ongoing campaigning efforts happening but we’re a small team! If you would like to contribute in discussing the Convention and spread the word please see the links to our Paste-Up Walks and Read-in initiatives.