Decomposing the front yard of a library. Some thoughts about territory and territorialization (I)

Many years ago, when I still lived in the metropolitan area of Medellin, I was a punk. As a member of that subculture, I used to go with my punk friends to punk places. One of those places was a library. Well, the outside patio of the library: a big brightly and made of cement area near cheap places for buying beer. Every weekend was the same. After nine pm we used to meet there until sunrise, more or less. Around us, other groups of punks were doing the same. Mostly, each subgroup formed by a local punk band and its close friends. From time to time people used to move from a group to another. In general terms, everyone knew to everyone, and despite some disputes and rivalries, the ambient there was quiet (under the standards of, more or less, seventy punks sharing a space.

Nevertheless, despite that mobility among groups, that consisted of talking and sharing music, each one of the collectives had its own place. One was located near the main door of the library, another one under some trees, the next one near a sculpture of a vagina, and so on. It was an organic way of distributing us across the patio every weekend. Even we had an area for the newcomers. When either someone or a group of people decided to be part of that scenario —and nobody introduce them to an old collective— they used to be located near a concrete flower pot. Usually, two weekends were necessary for the transition from a newbie to a member of that community. Nobody invented —officially— that rule, it was just the time you needed for making some new friends.

Model of a decomposed front yard

Click on the image for resizing it

However, punks were not the only group around. A small number of headbangers were present there too. They, as well as the punks, have a specific kind of organization of located subgroups composed by floating members. From time to time some of the metal-heads were communicating with some punks. That exchange used to create new temporal associations, zones “in between.” Usually, the communication was carried out between people that used to be in touch previously, I mean from other scenarios. Basically, nothing happened there in a sporadic way, except for fights.

During weekdays the area outside of the library was acting as a transit space. Especially in the afternoons, many kids used to go there for doing their homework, and sporadically there one could saw some children playing around the patio. Also, this place was frequented by couples for dating as well as by groups of old people, but most of the time, it was an empty space. The structure of the building was designed for being accessible to people with reduced mobility. It was a huge ramp that communicated the sidewalk and the main entry of the library. The trajectory of this ramp had the shape of a long corridor. People used to use it for just laying over there, especially the exterior wall of this structure. That wall was not so high enough serving as a kind of bench.

The library was part of the area of control of a famous gang in the city that, more or less, was tolerating the presence of weirdos, punks, and headbangers, into its domains. In a certain way, that gang was one of the reasons why those groups started to spend their time in the patio. Before the library, the meeting place for punks and metal-heads was the intersection of two streets beside a public institution for artistic manifestations, that was located some blocks far from the library. However, some restaurants and discos were also located around that place, and their owners were totally against the presence of punks and headbangers around their businesses because they were not looking good with the facade of the commercial spots. Finally one day the owners, that were obligated to pay a sort of illegal service of surveillance to that gang, made a complaint about the weirdos and those were expelled from there to a place where nobody could feel uncomfortable with their presence.

From another side, the local administration was against that new spatial appropriation made by “rockers and satanic people” (their words) and randomly, but not very often, some police officers were going to the library for putting everybody out of there. Nevertheless, after a while, when the police were not there anymore, everyone returned to the front yard as if nothing happened. However, things changed after some months in the same dynamic. A new local administration was elected and, at the same time, a new gang, more violent and organized, displaced the old one. This new mayorship that also was against punks around the library was well known by their relationships with some mafia members and with this new gang. Suddenly there were not more police officers for cleaning the front yard. Now it was a job for a couple of gangsters.

The visits of the gangsters to the patio where more often than the ones made by the police. They used to arrive after midnight, and as in a kind of curfew, every group was dissolved, just that in this case, everybody learned that coming back was not a good idea. Once a kid was staved more than thirty times around his chest because he refused to leave the site. A few months later a guy was shot near the library because he was walking in the area after midnight, from another place to his house, wearing punk clothes. Both died. Despite some attempts for reaffirming the right to be there, people finally quit, the groups were scattered around the city, and some months later the ramp, the corridor and the facade of the library were surrounded by white metal bars.

In workdays, some couples, children and old people continue using the front yard of the library as a transit area. The zone was cleaned of unwanted people, but later other groups arrived. At nights, the patio is still frequented by people that are going there for drinking and talking, either as a transitional place between one disco to another or just because they decide to spend some time there. The place is continually being renewed, this time by a more heterogeneous group: people going to parties. There are many bars and discos in the area, and from time to time one can see sporadic people drinking, smoking and talking there. Now those occasional drinkers only have to be careful about not being caught by the police due to a recent prohibition of drinking outside.