Athens’ unofficial community initiatives offer hope after government failures

Athens’ unofficial community initiatives offer hope after government failures

Commons stakes out the claim to a city. The claim that resources, which are hosted by cities, belong to a broader group of urban inhabitants than just for those who can afford. Thus, the nature of city as a commons is inherited in its accessibility to a wide amplitude of stakeholders including workers and the unemployed, pensioners and migrants as well as youth, among others. This claim has become viral. Bologna, New York, or Amsterdam are not the only places where people with an enabling local administrations have been turning abandoned buildings, degraded squares or parking lots to vivid social and cultural spaces, such as, vibrant and open access community gardens, self-managed health clinics, collective kitchens, neighbourhood assemblies and other profoundly inclusive spaces; the “Informal local movements are reclaiming public space in Greek capital” too, as The Guardian announces.

This is fascinating –  commoning practices all over the world have shed the light over the fact that the city dynamics and even laws could be changed from the ground-up. To add, this reality illuminates two phenomena: first, S. Sassen’s claim that city is a “complex and incomplete event” and, second, that social innovators who care and want to take care of their cities are indeed experienced and competent City Makers putting human value above commercial and business interest.

The Guardian depicts exactly these phenomena in a Greek context. Athens inhabitants and the city at large witness a transition: the conventional understanding of space with fancy and over-designed infrastructure, which is either under public or private regime, is shifting to commons. To add, this phenomenon is insisted and governed by a multitude of stakeholders – a polycentric approach. Athens are gradually becoming a centre for the ground-up urban transformation, having creative, dynamic and resilient communities leading the struggle.  A wide array of spaces, from abandoned offices to neo-classical buildings are being reclaimed by local urban and social innovators, thus, the activities at Navarinou Park or movements like ‘Us Here and Now and for All of Us’, which united local residents in transforming a parking lot into a community-managed space, are just a few illustrations of this.

This gradual reclaiming the right to the city via bottom-up practices followed the demise of the welfare state, tells the Guardian. At the time of Europe’s economic crisis which erupted in 2008, Greece had to bear with the severe consequences that hit the modest neighbourhood inhabitants the most. Nonetheless, the trauma of the economic collapse, which initially produced an unpleasant occurrence of street riots, also proved that city inhabitants are not paralysed by the crisis. Economic decline encouraged informal urbanism, which was born out of the spirit of solidarity and brought people together having them pooling and sharing resources, actively engaging with one another and contributing to the co-creation of collective well-being. This was recognised as compelling example of city revitalisation coming “in a sharp contrast to the practices of big donors sharing urban form that, from the first days of Athens being made the capital of a state romanticised as the cradle of western civilisation, have prevailed until now” tells the Guardian.

@ Navarinou Park. Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images, the Guardian

@ Navarinou Park. Photo by Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images, the Guardian

Thus, Greece, having undergone the uncompromising outcomes of financial and economic crisis, has simultaneously witnessed “an explosion of social networks born of bottom-up initiatives” as said by Stavros Stavrides, who was interviewed by the Guardian. Needless to say, what is extremely important here is that Mr. Giorgos Kaminis and Amalia Zepou are not strangers to these processes. A progressive mayor of Athens and his vice mayor for civil society and municipality decentralisation recognise the value of social and cultural needs and hence support the manner city dwellers reinvigorate the democratic processes and transform Athens to an inclusive and sustainable spaces for all. In the commons language Athens experience illustrates the main principles of the governance of the commons, which are polycentricism, the enabling role of the local authorities and social pooling.

Find the original article by the Guardian here.