Currently, in the city of Athens, Greece, there are various initiatives lead by local groups and community members, taking action to improve city life by any means necessary. Is it possible that these activities could bring a series of changes to the city landscape, that otherwise may be very unlikely to happen.
On opposite sites in central Athens, residents of the Kolonos and Exarcheia neighborhoods display two examples of how well-organized communities could successfully pursue an idea and achieve important goals of better urban design.
For more than two decades, an open space at the intersection of Xarilaou Trikoupi, Zoodochou Pigis and Navarinou Street in Exarcheia has been used as a parking lot even though it was betrothed to become a park. In March 2009, local people occupied the site, and in no time the parking lot was turned into a park.
It was the right time for the Exarcheia Community Initiative to intervene since the parking contractor lease had expired, and the owners were considering further rebuilding plans. The design, construction, and management of the park was carried out by the locals, who by then had already been active with the matter for almost a year and a half. A small, fragile and cramped place among tall buildings, the self-managed Park at Navarinou Street is nevertheless a free, open, green space that owes its unique character to the unconventional neighborhood of Exarcheia and its locals who finally triumph over the slow governmental and bureaucratic procedures.
Plato’s Academy, the place where the ancient Greek philosopher taught his students, is the actual park located in the heart of Kolonos neighborhood today. A park that was once closed to the public and neglected by the government for many years. In March 2013, the community created a human-chain surrounding Plato’s Academy Park, standing against those who were planning to construct a huge shopping mall nearby. This symbolic action showed the determination of the locals to embrace, protect and cherish the place where more than a hundred thousand archaeological findings have been found.
The dedicated Community Committee of Plato’s Academy is fighting for the overall enhancement of their neighborhood, a place that could be promoted to an important cultural landmark for Athens with the construction of a museum dedicated to Plato. They also call for a halt to the concrete redevelopment that threatens to degrade their urban environment, and furthermore request recreational facilities, bike lanes, playgrounds and more trees instead.
This manifestation of bottom-up designs are common in the contemporary city of Athens, and has been proved salutary in many cases (i.e. beautification), but is it enough to trigger a larger scale change in the city? Public space in Athens, and in most cities, should never be assumed or taken for granted. In constant interaction with the current socioeconomic conditions, public space can be produced, exhausted, claimed and sometimes conquered.
Are you aware of any community initiatives that brought change to your local urban landscape and environment?
Credits: Images by Valia Stavrianidi or linked to sources. Data linked to sources.