July 11 2014

Navarinou & Plato’s Academy Parks: Communities Create Public Space in Athens

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.

Navarinou ex-parking lot, Athens, Greece

self-managed navarinou park, Athens, Greece

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.

Locals embrace platos academy park, , Athens, Greece

plato's academy park, , Athens, Greece

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.

Chris Christou

Chris has a Master's degree in Water Resources Science and Technology from the National Technical University of Athens. He started studying Mining Engineering and Metallurgy, but later on he concentrated his bachelor studies on Environmental Engineering, Waste and Water Management. During his late academic years he participated in environmental technology research projects. He is from Athens, Greece. His family, which consists mostly of civil engineers and architects, descends from the well-known stonemasons of the island of Santorini. Today he divides his time between Varkiza, a south-coast suburb of Athens, and Pagrati, downtown Athens, which he considers his home. Growing up in this central neighborhood he was able to witness the various changes in the city throughout the years. Observing his urban surroundings and influenced by his family, from an early age he became concerned about the urban environment. An inquisitive and creative person, he enjoys walking around the centre of Athens on quests for new or hidden details. Blogging for The Global Grid will be an opportunity to discover, highlight, and study the present state of environmental design in Athens, including potential outlets to improve the Athenian urban life.

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 11th, 2014 at 9:00 am and is filed under Chris Christou, Community/Economic Development, Environment, Environmental Design, Environmental Non-Profit, History/Preservation, Infrastructure, Land Use, Landscape Architecture, Uncategorized, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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One Response to “Navarinou & Plato’s Academy Parks: Communities Create Public Space in Athens”

  1. Danai Bella Zaire Says:

    Really nice article. I have a great interest for both cases and I have worked with them in the past. For example, during the Ecoweek conference of 2011 we had developed an idea about creating an open green museum that will expand significantly city’s public/green space at Plato’s academy site. (http://ecoweek.netfirms.com/ecoweek/files/2011/files/workshops_athens/ppt_present/W8.pdf).
    I will be glad to see more interesting articles for the city of Athens or other Greek cities from the GSP. Good job!

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