The strange case of the Chinatown People’s Gym, the August evictions and one-way legality


The strange case of the Chinatown People’s Gym, the August evictions and one-way legality
Written by aquitodovale

Summer, time for evictions. As tradition dictates, one might say. Usually, indeed almost always, they take place in August, there are many examples. It usually happens when politics can’t respond to disputes. For this there is concern in via Palestro, where those who have been animating the Chinatown People’s Gym for years know they are running this danger, of being brutally sent away.


It was the body that owns what volunteers and activists transformed into a common space with a real urban regeneration action, INPS, that made its intentions known. She did it from the pages of one of the city’s newspapers, and at the Chinatown People’s Gym they didn’t take it well at all. «We have decided to speak publicly about the threat of evacuation of our space, which appeared a few days ago in an article in the Mattino di Padova. From the pages of the newspaper Graziano Numa, INPS manager who deals with the sale of the body’s assets, he declared that he had filed a complaint with the prosecutor requesting the evacuation of the gymnasium ». The intentions are clear on the part of the institution. They want back the building which they have not been interested in at all for decades. Today things have obviously changed for the institution. And he is interested in getting it back, to probably sell it.


Numa’s statements are not liked by another thing, and they point it out: «They accuse us of having lied about our attempts to speak with the entity which, according to him, would never have happened. The article continues with a series of statements in which the official explains that if the post was totally abandoned before the occupation, the fault is not attributable to them but to others “. Up to now, the plot of history does not bring big elements of novelty compared to other events of the past years. In reality, even what is said later, always by those who have made the gym grow by involving youngsters and children, many of the neighborhood. «We want to remember that before the birth of the gym, the space that houses it had been left to rot for over 20 years, literally given the water infiltrations caused by the lack of maintenance of the gutters. We are not interested in discussing the institutional short circuit that has produced this neglect, what we would like to say is that, in the face of the logic of public institutions that shrug off responsibilities when it comes to managing assets only to argue about it when it’s time to monetize , from that space we have built a social project ». This is the real point, always, not only in this case. Born informally, without requests but only with the desire to do something about it given the conditions and the position in which he was. So here comes the whole question about legality and illegality. Which is then the “non-criterion” to settle this type of issues which in fact then lead to evictions. Usually in the summer, or rather in August, as they used to say.


And on the specific question, a political response arrives, rather than a practical one. Very detailed: «We invite those who accuse us of illegally entering the building to stop hiding behind the regulations and reflect on whether the real crime is keeping a shutter down in compliance with the law or raising it as we did. Those who kept it lowered denied a space to the community, the same that helped to build it, with our gesture we have offered the possibility of free access to sport, for everyone, in a neighborhood where a substantial part of the residents live in risk of social exclusion “. The social context, the one that the managers of the entities that own these spaces often forget.

4 years

«We did it in over 4 years of work in which, starting from an abandoned warehouse, we created a gym frequented by hundreds of people, a meeting place for the inhabitants of the neighborhood and beyond. We guarantee physical activity without discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, gender, economic or any other basis. We are convinced that sport can support potential and social well-being through the creation and strengthening of bonds with the community, creating a sense of belonging and acceptance and uniting people with different cultural, social and economic backgrounds. We did it with the commitment and passion of those who believed in this project, which over the years has proposed a dozen different sports activities for adults and children as well as promoted cultural and recreational initiatives ».

Public heritage

Nobody denies that there are rules, which must be respected to avoid the jungle, but what about those who abandon and leave the public heritage to decay? When dealing with the issue of occupations, one always ends up using only one parameter, that of legality. But if it is not legal to occupy a building, it is instead legal to leave it to decay in the middle of a working-class neighborhood that already has its problems and has always had them. And it was precisely these initiatives that stemmed the worst scenarios. «If there is anyone who has valued this space, it is the people who have made it live, because the value of public heritage is social value. Evidently, however, those who today threaten us with evacuation do not think the same way. In fact, as stated by Numa himself, the INPS is called to rent the buildings of the complex in via Palestro. The same logic with which ATER has been selling off the public assets given to it for years. These policies in fact hand over the Palestro district in the hands of building speculation to the detriment of its inhabitants. Who, when it goes well, are seen to reduce the proximity services and fray their social networks while, when it goes wrong, they have to face evictions and / or forced transfers to other areas of the city. We therefore do not feel like exulting with the INPS manager for the excellent results obtained with the first two auction rounds, because the euro is not the unit of measurement with which to quantify the value of the collective assets but it is the function that it performs. for the benefit of the community itself. It is the popular sport projects, as well as the cultural and artistic ones, which make neighborhoods liveable, which encourage direct participation and which snatch the squares from the shop. These projects need spaces to exist and we, in the absence of alternatives, have taken the space for ourselves ».


On the issue of employment from Chinatown we are keen to make two clarifications. «The first – they explain – is that with the occupation we have caused no harm to anyone. If anything, the opposite is true given that we have recovered and refurbished a space left to abandonment and neglect for several decades. The second is that we immediately tried, in vain, to open a confrontation with the INPS to find an agreement on the building, also through the intervention of the sports department of the municipality of Padua. So, whatever Mr. Numa says, if in recent years a dialogue has never been initiated with the institution he works for, it has not been due to a lack of our will to do so ».


«What we can say is that an eventual eviction of the gymnasium would be a further blow to a neighborhood already heavily tormented by speculative logic. It would mean debasing a social project to a mere question of public order and the restoration of “legality”. It will not be the threat of an eviction, which we have been aware of since the day we entered, to stop our reality of popular sport. For our part, we will defend our gym in the way we think is right, continuing to demonstrate with our daily activities that we carry out the validity of our project and its usefulness in the neighborhood in which it is located ».


In direct question, on the sidelines of the press conference to present the new council, the confirmed mayor, Sergio Giordani, has meanwhile assured that he will have particular attention for the Palestro district. A direct question on the gym issue and the risk of eviction he commented confidently: «There will be no eviction, I’m sure we will be able to find a solution that satisfies everyone. In any case, it is necessary to regularize the question ».


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