Athens is not only a city in crisis with harsh austerity measures and the related social tensions. Going through dramatic shifts, Athens today is redefining its development model.
Athens is a city with a very lively young scene of bottom-up urban initiatives. It is the city that recently received one of the five Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors’ Challenge awards to further develop the Athens Municipality’s own participative platform SynAthina. Athens will also be co-hosting the upcoming, Documenta, which has the working title “Learning from Athens”.
A field trip from Wednesday, December 10th to Saturday, December 13th, 2014 will explore the city’s potential and address 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 Metropolitan Field Trip is an initiative of Pakhuis de Zwijger, Deltametropolis Association and Stipo and organized in cooperation with the Athens Municipality, and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Athens. The program is curated by Hybrid Space Lab.
Advanced Introduction to Athens
The field trip’s official program starts at 6:30 p.m. with a welcome dinner at Orange Grove, the incubator set up by the Netherlands Embassy in Athens. During this introductory event we raise the question “Why Athens?” and find some first answers attending the premiere public screening “ATH : A Perfectly Chaotic City”.
At 7:30 p.m., Jan Versteeg, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Greece, opens the public lecture and discussion session with an “Advanced Introduction to Athens”, rounded off by “Short Urban History of Athens” presentation and a short lecture on “Grassroots Groups in Greece”.
Peripatetics / Politics of Walking The public event continues with a series of short presentations from Orange Grove start-ups and other urban initiatives that organize alternative, sustainable, and smart tours through the city and use walking as a method of urban intervention. The program features actors who take on a walker’s perspective of the cityscape and are involved in improving the walkability of a city still heavily dominated by cars.
All Athenian contributors to the “Co-Creating the City” project are invited to the public part of the program starting at 7:30 p.m., enabling a first meeting and exchange with the field trip’s participants.
The event closes with drinks at around 10:00 p.m.
The Municipality’s Participative Platform
The day starts with a short visit to the premises of the Athens Municipality’s own participative
platform SynAthina and meeting the people involved in this
The Municipality of Athens recently received one of the five Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors’ Challenge awards for SynAthina. The municipality 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”.
We continue with a visit to the excavation site of the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos with the
Eridanos stream, named after the ancient river-god Eridanos – who is the namesake not only of this stream in Athens, but also of rivers in general and of a stellar constellation represented by the form of a stream.
Here we discover the eternal water currents that still run under the contemporary city and
discuss issues of urban water management that are becoming increasingly crucial to Athens.
We meet bottom-up initiatives involved in revitalizing urban streams and exchange with
Athenian water-management experts.
In a ten minutes’ walk, we quickly travel in history – from this ancient site, to the refurbished industrial heritage site Technopolis, into Athens’ future, the InnovAthens incubator.
InnovAthens was 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 meet social entrepreneurs as well as initiatives exploring alternative economic models, such as the ‘sharing economy’.
Integration of the Historic Cityscape in the Contemporary City
We then walk along the Acropolis hill to the Acropolis Museum. At the museum’s restaurant, we lunch with experts involved in integrating the layers of the historic city into contemporary Athens, against the backdrop of a magnificent view of the Acropolis landmark.
Art and the City
Stopping by the art and design center E-D-W, The Breeder gallery and the Kunsthalle Athena, we explore the potential of art to re-frame and re-code the city and discuss art’s contribution to gentrification and other processes of urban renewal.
Founded in 2011, Kunsthalle Athena is an art center dedicated to contemporary visual
culture. Its major objective is to “reintroduce contemporary art and its significance to a genuine public sphere, prioritizing the possibility of co-producing and thus extending culture”. Kunsthalle Athena is co-organising the upcoming 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.
All three venues are located in Metaxourgeio, a run-down neighborhood in central Athens
with vacant neoclassical buildings and spacious abandoned warehouses where the city’s transformation is partcularly visible. The district became a hub for small, local restaurants and
underground clubs and bars; more recently galleries and artists have moved in. A private developer has been involved in the area’s urban renewal, and the district is currently undergoing a process of gentrification.
Preserving European Urban Heritage Through Squatting
A combined dinner-performance-installation addressing the issue of “Preserving [and Creating] European Urban Heritage Through Squatting” is hosted at EMBROS, a squat with a very lively arts program.
The EMBROS building originally housed the offices of a newspaper called “Empros” and later hosted a theatre. This abandoned-listed building was then re-opened to the public in 2011 by an artist initiative (Mavili Movement). This self-managed cultural space, open to artistic and social events, had been shut down since, but re-opened again, continuing its art and culture program, with seminars, live music shows, parties etc..
The day starts with a short visit to a Social Pharmacy, a functioning model of providing the most important commodity of all: health. In times of crisis, solidarity initiatives have risen to remind everybody that before anything else, we are sharing much more than just the space our city offers. Social medical centers/pharmacies, such as the one we visit, offer free examinations and medication to those lacking health insurance. The people provide their no longer needed medications to the Social Pharmacy, which are then channeled to those in need. Doctors offer their services for free (pro bono) a few hours every day.
In a ten minutes’ walk, we reach the Rethink Athens information
center. Rethink Athens is a large-scale urban regeneration project for making the now trafficfilled
streets of the city center suitable for pedestrians. The Dutch landscape architecture office OKRA won an international competition financed by the Onassis Foundation to realize this project, which addresses a series of issues of “climate adaptation by urban design”: developing the largest underground water retention system in the Mediterranean region, among others.
This large-scale urban regeneration project of a vast area in the inner city that includes one of its main representational arteries, has sparked controversy among Athens’ urban planners and is subject to a highly polarized public discussion.
Rooftop Urban Farm
We visit a rooftop urban farm run by a young architect. Searching for solutions toward a sustainable
lifestyle in the center of the city, he developed a farm with agricultural production of vegetables on the rooftop of one of the generic Athens apartment buildings – 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 water circuitry as well: for example, by integrating trout breeding ponds into the water cycle.
Turning a Parking Lot into a Park
We then stop by Parko Navarino, a parking lot that was transformed into a local public park. The empty lot belonged to a carrier of the state that used to sublet it to be exploited as a paid parking lot. In 2009, a citizens’ group, with a couple of pneumatic drills and other tools, started digging holes in the asphalt ground. The holes were later filled with earth, then vegetables, decorative plants, and trees were planted. A playground for the children was developed and an installation for an open-air summer cinema was put in place.
The place became a living organism of voluntary work. Residents gather every week to take care of the plants, construct benches, and to discuss and co-design the future of their park.
Meet the Professors and Students
At the Architectural Faculty of the National Technical University of Athens we meet a group of professors and students and reflect on urban development issues.
The National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), also known as “Metsoveion Polytechneion”, is the oldest public university in Greece, established in 1917 as an academic institution for the tertiary education of architect engineers, civil engineers, and mechanical engineers. Located in an historic setting, it offers high quality, tuition-free education to young engineers.
Participation and the Role of the Expert
At the Architecture School we also host a seminar-like meeting with Athens initiatives, activists, and urbanists involved in participative urban development to exchange on our participatory experiences. We discuss the (transforming) role of the expert in the context of participative processes with the students—the future experts.
Creative Industry Incubator
Romantso is a creative industry incubator in a building that formally
housed the publisher of the women’s magazine “Romantso”. This creative industry hub includes studios, spaces for workshops and exhibitions and a bar.
Dinner at a Local Athens Taverna
Contemporary Art Meeting Point
We end the day at the Contemporary Art Meeting Point (CAMP), a venue
for artists and creative entrepreneurs.
CAMP is located in the heart of Athens, amongst historical buildings, such as the City Hall. In
recent years, it has been very active: hosting exhibitions, film and video art projections, and
Saturday morning we drive 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 that opens the city to the waterfront.
Under the name of “Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center” (SNFCC)–and fully funded
by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation–this project will include the new buildings of the Greek National Opera and of the National Library of Greece as well as the Stavros Niarchos Park. On the completion of the project in 2015 the foundation will hand over full control and operation of the SNFCC to the Greek State.
Workshop and Public Event “MultipliCity: Rebooting Polykatoikia”
In the afternoon, the field trip participants will collaborate with their Athens counterparts during a workshop organized by the Athens Municipality and curated by Hybrid Space Lab. The workshop’s main focus is the revitalization of the generic Greek modern apartment buildings “polykatoikies”.
This theme will be addressed from a very broad range of perspectives relevant to sustainable
urban development, so that the experience of the field trip, through the multiple dimensions and contradicting realities of the city of Athens, can flow into the creative process. As the title implies, the workshop’s theme is the redefinition of Athens’ ‘polykatoikia’ in practice. “Polykatoikia” (πολυκατοικία) is the Greek term for “block of flats” and derives from “poly” which means “multi” and “katoikia” which means “residence”. The typology of “polykatoikia” was used to meet the needs of post-war development, when Athens encountered its peak growth period of its modern history.
In retrospect, this development has received criticism and has been blamed for turning Athens into an amorphous mass of built space, often of poor construction quality. In addition, the economic crisis has led to further dereliction of the “polykatoikies” and has left the city with an abundance of vacant space in the form of empty apartments and shops in the “polykatoikia” buildings.
However, the potential of “polykatoikia” is undeniable: it offers a framework for social inclusion, urban multi-functionality (shops, offices, and housing combined in one building) and a human scale in the city. Small-scale ownership is not always easy to manage but it is a strong factor of social integration. The skeleton-construction of the buildings is a flexible structure enabling adaptation.
The focus of the “MultipliCity” workshop enables multiple approaches relevant to sustainable urban development, integrating perspectives of the Creative City, the Green City, and the Social City. “Rebooting Polykatoikies” also touches on the more general issue of ‘rebooting’ modernism, as the “polykatoikies” derive directly from Le Corbusier’s “Domino House”, an icon of modernist architecture.
The workshop is hosted in a vacant shopping passage in the city center where the initiative
Traces of Commerce is running a participative revitalization
project, inviting “young creative entrepreneurs, designers, artists, craftsmen, chefs, art curators, architects, graphic designers, any kind of small-to-medium size creative collaborations, musicians, inventors and other creative expertise, to establish a temporary start-up office in the gallery and convert its empty stores into laboratories for creative experimentation and showrooms”.
The field trip’s program closes in the evening with a public event during which the outcome of
the workshop is presented (end of official program at 9:30 p.m.).
The program is still preliminary and subject to change.
- Egbert Fransen (Pakhuis de Zwijger)
- Anastasia Chranioti (Deltametropolis Association)
- Lucie Snoeker (Lucie Snoeker Management en Advies)
- Hetti Willemse (Publicarea)
- Ad van Elzakker (Publicarea)
- Thijs Karrenbeld Architect)
- Charlot Schans (Pakhuis de Zwijger)
- Letty Reimerink (Reimerink Advies , independent journalist for Citiscope.org)
- Sophie Logothetis (Dutch Culture)
- Hettie Politiek (Municipality of Amsterdam)
- Engelien Hengeveld ([http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=30711930&authType=NAME_SEARCH&authToken=aqH5&locale=nl_NL&trk=tyah2&tr
- Yvonne van Remmen (Ministery of the Interior and Kingdom Relations)
Why should you join the Field Trip to Athens?
Because you are somewhat actively engaged in the transition of cities, or urban development in general. You want to broaden your horizon and witness how things are done elsewhere in Europe. You want to meet new people within your field of interest or profession, and want to establish sustainable (inter)national contacts. And first and foremost, you want to get a unique perspective on Athens, gain this in the company of an inspiring group of peers and have the practicalities fully taken care of.
Because this is a unique opportunity to take part in a very special moment in Athens historical continuum. Because you are interested in learning from Athens and its citizens!
The costs for the Field Trip are € 700,- per person. This includes: hotel (3 nights), breakfast, lunch and diner, local transport, tours and presentations. Excluding transportation to and from Athens.
Important: Due to the end of the programme late Saturday evening, an extra night in the hotel is recommended. To avoid inconvenience we offer a discounted price of €50,- for the participants of the Metropolitan Field Trip. Please inform us, and we will make a reservation for the extra night.