Co-Creating the City
10-13 December 2014
“Co-Creating the City” was a field trip for architects, landscape architects and urbanists, cultural entrepreneurs, urban initiatives, and city officials from the Netherlands and other European countries, to visit and exchange with their Athens counterparts. It was curated by Hybrid Space Lab and organized together with the Pakhuis De Zwijger, an Amsterdam-based organization that bridges official politics with the city’s bottom-up urban initiatives.
Exploring the city’s potential and addressing a broad range of sustainable cityscape development issues in the intersection and tension of the Creative City, the Green City, and the Social City, the “Co-Creating the City“.
EU Urban Agenda
bridging official politics
In preparation for events that will take place in the first half of 2016, when the Netherlands will hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Pakhuis De Zwijger is linking the EU capitals on a platform on city development, citizen involvement and democratic renewal. Involved in the project were the Athens Municipality, the Amsterdam Municipality, and the Dutch Embassy in Athens.
In a series of thematic tours the international participants discussed and exchanged ideas with Athens ‘city-makers’. Stopping at a broad range of venues, from the social medical center to the incubator, and from the squatted theater to the new opera house building site, the project featured a series of discussions, involving and connecting Athenians from very different social, political, and professional backgrounds. Many of these Athenian participants found the project interesting enough as to follow it throughout several venues – and invited their friends to join.
The program started on Wednesday 10-12-2014 at Orange Grove, the incubator set up by the Netherlands Embassy in Athens. It was opened by Jan Versteeg, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Greece, with an “Advanced Introduction to Athens”, rounded off by “Athens: An Archaeology of the Future”, a short lecture on Athens’ urban history by Stavros Martinos, and a short presentation on “Grassroots Groups in Greece” by Mehran Khalili. Amalia Zepou, Athens Vice Mayor for Civil Society and Municipality Decentralisation, welcomed the group; Egbert Fransen, Director of Pakhuis de Zwijger, and Elizabeth Sikiaridi of Hybrid Space Lab introduced the project.
The public event continued with a series of short presentations from Orange Grove start-ups, featuring Myrto Papadogeorgou of “City of Errors”, Marianne Najm of “Family Goes Out”, Monique van Hulst of “Let’s Meet in Athens”, Fotis Merakos of “TheCityGame”, and Athena Pitta of “Glossopolis”. All Athenian contributors to the “Co-Creating the City” project were invited, enabling a first exchange with the international field trip’s participants
During a visit on Thursday morning, 11-12-2014, to the premises of the Athens Municipality’s own participative platform SynAthina, we met and discussed with the people involved in this project: Amalia Zepou (Athens Vice Mayor for Civil Society and Municipality Decentralisation), Anthi Christou, Maria Scordialos, and Stelios Voulgaris (all SynAthina). The Municipality of Athens recently received one of the five Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors’ Challenge awards for SynAthina and is now further developing this “online platform that connects the new dynamic input of civil society with local institutions and local government to collaboratively devise solutions to local problems, ensuring solid foundations and sustainable policies for the revival of Athens’ neighborhoods.”
At Kerameikos we met with bottom-up initiatives involved in revitalizing urban streams and exchanged with architect Iosif Effraimidis about issues of urban water management, which are becoming increasingly crucial to Athens.
Next to the ancient site of Kerameikos, at the refurbished industrial heritage site Technopolis, lies Athens’ future, the InnovAthens incubator, founded by the municipality to support young aspiring entrepreneurs towards their goals, helping them gain knowledge about their fields of interest and meet people with whom they can collaborate. At InnovAthens we met with Elena Lamprou and Dora Thanopoulou, social entrepreneurs from Impact Hub Athens, as well as Katerina Apostolidou of the “Festival of Alternative Economy”.
After a lunch at the Acropolis Museum’s restaurant, against the backdrop of a magnificent view of the Acropolis landmark, we visited the Netherlands Institute of Athens were we had a discussion with Winfred van der Put (Institute Director) and Willem Ledeboer (Vice Director) as well as Nicholas Karachalis (Economic Geographer), Ioannis Poulios (Cultural Heritage Management Consultant) and Smaro Touloupa (Tourism Professional): all experts involved in integrating the layers of historic Athens into the contemporary city.
At Kerameikos / Metaxourgeio we explored art’s potential to re-frame and re-code the city, and discussed art’s contribution to gentrification and other processes of urban renewal. We were welcomed at the The Breeder gallery by Nadia Gerazouni, and the contemporary visual culture organization Atopos by Stamos Fafalios. Klea Charitou and Eleanna Papathanasiadi showed us around at the Kunsthalle Athena, the institution co-organising Documenta 14, which has the working title “Learning from Athens” and will likewise be co-hosted in Athens. This global art event could give Athens the chance to launch itself as a place for art creation and as an artistic and creative hub – similar perhaps to the “poor but sexy” Berlin that attracted the art crowds with an expanse of vacant, low-rent spaces during a time of recession at the turn of the century.
Stopping at the art and design center E-D-W for a discussion involving Valentini Kaimaki and Evangelos Kaimakis of E-D-W, developer Iasson Tsakonas, entrepreneur Kostantinos Politis, and sociologist Niκos Souliotis: The above-mentioned venues are located in central Athens where the city’s transformation is particularly visible, with vacant neoclassical buildings and spacious abandoned warehouses. The district became a hub for small, local restaurants and underground clubs and bars; more recently galleries and artists have moved in, contributing to a process of urban renewal and gentrification.
In the evening, an open informal discussion took place at the self-organized Embros theatre with the theme of “Self-organized, Occupied Spaces and Urban Heritage in the European Context”. Embros is a cultural, social, and political occupied space with a very lively arts program.
On Friday 12-12-2014, we started the day with a visit to a Social Pharmacy/Medical Centre, where the volunteer manager Constantine Kokossis showed us around. The social medical centre offers free examinations and medication to those lacking health insurance. Citizens provide their no longer needed medications to the Social Pharmacy, through which they are channeled to those in need; doctors offer their services for free.
At the Rethink Athens project information center, a large-scale urban regeneration project to make the now traffic-filled streets of the city center suitable for pedestrians, we were welcomed by Martin Knuijt of the Dutch landscape architecture office OKRA, which won the international competition financed by the Onassis Foundation, and by architectural researcher Fanis Kafantaris. The project addressed a series of issues related to climate adaptation by urban design, developing the largest underground water retention system in the Mediterranean region, among others. This large-scale regeneration of a vast area in the inner city, which includes one of its main representational arteries, has sparked controversy among Athens’ urban planners and is the subject of a highly polarized public discussion.
At the rooftop urban farm run by Konstantinos Zarbis we also met with the Athenian urban green experts Andrew Clemens and Panagiotis Gkounidis. Searching for solutions toward a sustainable lifestyle in the center of the city, Zarbis developed a farm with agricultural production of vegetables on the rooftop of a generic Athens apartment building – which catered also to goats, chickens, and rabbits… who unfortunately had to move out of town when the issue was picked up by the press. This successful rooftop farm experiment develops an integrative approach to urban agriculture, addressing circuitry, for example, by using the supermarket waste (of yesterday’s vegetables) to feed the animals, and by integrating trout breeding ponds into the water cycle.
At Parko Navarino, a parking lot that was transformed into a local public park, we met citizens involved in the project. The empty lot was used as a parking lot when in 2009 a citizens’ group started digging holes in the asphalt ground; the holes were filled with earth, and vegetables, decorative plants, and trees were planted; a children playground and an open-air summer cinema installation were put in place. Residents gather every week to take care of the plants, construct benches, and to discuss and co-design the future of their park.
During a meeting with Athens initiatives, activists, and urbanists we focused on participative urban development, involving contributions by city makers Loukas Bartatilas and Maria Kikidou, ecology activist and alderman Philip Dragoumis, prof. Eleni Haniotou and prof. Penny Koutroulidou of the National Technical University of Athens, architect Yannis Vlachakis, and social entrepreneur Konstantina Zoehrer.The discussion was originally planned at the Architectural Faculty of the National Technical University of Athens. Due to the occupation on university premises, the discussion was hosted at Impact Hub Athens.
We ended the day at Romantso, a creative industry incubator, where founder Vasilis Charalampidis showed us around. This creative industry hub, in a building that formally housed the publisher of the women’s magazine “Romantso”, includes studios, spaces for workshops and exhibitions, and a bar.
On Saturday, 13-12-2014, we drove to the sea, to the Falirikon Delta construction site of the Greek National Opera and National Library of Greece within a large-scale landscaped park, which opens the city to the waterfront. Kostas Liveris of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation introduced the “Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center” (SNFCC) project. Fully funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, this project will include the new buildings of the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece as well as the Stavros Niarchos Park.
Yiorgos Sachinis showed us around the Drougouti Island Hotel Project. Initiated by the UrbanDig Project, a non-profit organization of city makers from different fields of art and science, the project organizes participative neighborhood workshops and other activities to unfold local history and re-establish the public dimension of the city.