City issue

Urban Theory, articles and research

Citizen, resident or volunteer? The right to the city

By Constantina Theodorou

News no1
“Citizens will clean from graffiti the pedestrian way of Apostolou Pavlou (the one that surrounds Acropolis). This action, which calls the citizens to protect and show off their city is the result of collaboration of three different bodies : the journalist’s Nikos Vatopoulos group of citizens “Every Sunday in Athens”, the municipality of Athens and the deputy mayor of Cleaning Andreas Varelas and the anti-graffiti materials company Booka of Elias Andreopoulos. With Nikos Vatopoulos at the role of the basic negotiations person and instigator of the action, it is finally feasible this gathering of power in the name of the city” (link here)

News No2
“With the coordination of ELLET( Hellenic company) and with the initiative of Lydia Carras and Maya Tsoklis, institutions and citizens created the Citizens Network for the Historical Center, aiming to make the Historical Center of Athens viable again and put an end to its degradation. At the historic building of ELLET, citizens of the Historical Center were there on Tuesday 04.11.2014 to declare their decision for the historical Center of Athens to exit the quagmire and make it viable again. (link here)

The discussion about the word citizen
These are two very recent news of the month November 2014. They may be small and without any importance, but there is something very interesting in them, that is not the event itself, but the language of the news, and more specifically the use of the word citizen. A year before the titles of both these articles would be something like that: “volunteer’ s cleaning action” and “residents of the historical center …”
But now the word citizen (politis in greek) comes to replace the words volunteer and resident, while totally replacing the word dimotis (in greek dimotis is the citizen of a city, and politis is a citizen in general, the citizen of a state). This small language shift would not really matter if it happened for every similar news. If e.g. all the volunteers who clean were called citizens and all the residents who talk about their neighbourhoods were called citizens too. Still though, some active citizens, as in Plato’s Academy neighbourhood,( a low income neighbourhood around Plato’s Academy) are still called “residents”, but some others who clean Apostolou Pavlou and meet at the offices of ELLET are upgraded to” citizens”.
Usually the propagandistic use of the word citizen is related with the purpose to emphasize and distinguish the Greek national identity. With this connotation it is used on the news to make the distinction between the criminal immigrant and the victim Greek citizen, or vice versa, rewarding the foreigner who makes a remarkable achievement upgrading him to a citizen, so as to say worthy to be Greek. This is a typical use of the word citizen, defined in the context of a National identity and a Nation-State. But when we talk about the issues of the city where Greek citizens, with the same national identity are discerned to residents, volunteers and citizens, what is the meaning of the word citizen?
The linguistic shift from the volunteer to citizen happens at a time when the words citizen, active citizen and civil society are in the epicentre of every debate and policy planning in EU and around the globe, whereas the word volunteer with all its negative connotations is going to be withdrawn. It is also a moment when the redefinition of the term citizen becomes very urgent, as it gets detached from the clear framework of the Nation-State and expands itself in the broader framework of a denationalized or post-national- transnational identity. What all these mean?
Roughly the denationalized identity is this that is practised even in the context of a nation-state but independently of it, through the participation in smaller or much bigger networks. (e.g. through the participation to a global petition, or the making of neighbourhood park). It is the identity of the citizen who belongs to the Civil Society and it is the one more suitable to approach the issues of the city. The post-national identity suits more to approach situations as these of the citizens of EU, who are simultaneously citizens of a state, and a union of states.
Saskia Sassen, full versed in these matters, gave a lecture last November during the Creative Summit meeting at Stockholm, asking this very crucial question “Who is a Citizen?” The discussion is not literal and is extremely crucial. It has to do with our rights- with our right to space. The definition of “citizen”  requires to define who has rights, which rights and where.

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HRADF at Attica Region- Public land for sale

Click on the image and  see which state properties have been transferred to the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund and are going to be sold (or have  been sold)


(HDRAF Attica map, for the group KOINO athina, by Constantina Theodorou)

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Rethink Athens- A clear yes or no and a possibly maybe

Constantina Theodorou

On Monday 31/03 there was a presentation for the historic centre of Athens, at the headquarters of “Anichti Poli/ (Open City),  a solidarity space for the city of Athens,  left- Syriza affiliated. The presentation opened with the talk of Gabriel Sakelaridis, the candidate of Syriza on the forthcoming municipal elections of May. Till the end of his talk there was a great question left with a doubt. Does the candidate mayor stand for or against “Rethink Athens”? There was a disappointment for many in the audience, expecting to hear a clear yes or no. To be accurate they just expected to hear the “no” answer, and they found it as a weak point of the candidacy that there is not a clear stance against what is thought to be a “beautification project” in a broken city, which is officially characterized by UNESCO as city  under Humanitarian crisis.

In an implicit way there was an answer. The candidate mayor during the presentation of his program said that “according to our views, the few available funding, shouldn’t go altogether to so called “emblematic projects”, depriving resources from the neighbourhoods. A city shouldn’t have as a trademark a “gentrified centre”.

Given that we talk about pre-election promises, (who can seriously count on them?)  it is assumed that the candidate is rather against Rethink. But is he really? And if he’s not why he’s not? But does it make any sense being for or against Rethink?

The answer to this question, is that it doesn’t really matter what  any candidate mayor thinks of it, as he will have no serious power in the process of approving and realizing this key project for the city. The decisions on the project are beyond the jurisdiction of the Municipality, on the level of the Ministry and the Region (the funding agreement was signed as follows: 38million euro from the Ministry of Constructions and 40.5 million Euro from the Region of Attiki). The mayor didn’t sign anything and he’s not supposed to sign anything since he has no money to put on this. Only for typical reasons the project is  under the  suspices of Municipality  amongst other operators.

So since the mayor can’t change anything, why should a candidate challenge what seems to be the new object of collective imaginary?

At this moment Rethink project seems to illuminate the people’s dreams, to restore the  hope for those who live and move around the centre longing to hear the sound of the first bulldozer as the bells of heaven. Lots of green, pedestrian ways, tourists ready to kill their money, not somewhere far from here, not at Hellinikon, but right here, under our feet. How could anyone tell them that it is silly to believe that just a row of trees on either side of a relatively slow tram can change their lifes? Rethink Athens did it to the heart of people through an excellent media propaganda by Onassis Foundation. (Onassis Foundation is responsible for the conduct of the contest and its communication campaign, trying to present the whole project as  Onassis Foundation’s gift to Athens)

Meanwhile in Athens there are at stake some other, much bigger- in size, budget and area projects as the privatization of the former airport area of Hellinikon. But the talk always returns to Rethink. It is because of the symbolic aspect of the project, it fullfils the need for a collective buoyancy, it is the “showroom” of the city,  it is in our daily routes- somehow, we, the people of the centre, will all have our piece of stardust from the new shiny-glossy Panepistimiou street. This is not the case of Hellinikon (on the south suburbs of Athens) -whatever happens there it’s almost invisible for us here.

This is why the confronting voices are few and limited to those experts of architecture and urbanism, who recognize all the shortcomings of the plans and the methodological mistakes, to those who disapprove the lavishness of the project in times of extreme austerity, and to those who use the ten bus lanes that will be cut. All the others consent enthusiastically.

So, why should a candidate mayor say no to Rethink?

The answer lies in a very small part in the presentation of another speaker of the event, Y. Polyzos, a supporter of Rethink project, professor at NTUA (National Technical University of Athens), and former director of the Organization of Athens’ Masterplan (ORSA). Continue reading

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REMNANTS of CIAM Rethink/Relaunch Athens

Lecture by Constantina Theodorou,  “On BOARD” project, dedicated to the 80 years since the 4th CIAM, Curated by Sofia Dona, CAMP, 30 June 2012, ATHENS

REMNANTS of CIAM Rethink/Relaunch Athens or how the ghosts of the 4th Ciam are still haunting all the plans for Athens nowadays.

“… It is precisely the idea of ​​FUNCTIONAL CITY, that is lying behind all the projects that are proposed for Athens, but also internationally. The idea of ​​the functional city lies behind terms such as Sustainable city, Smart City, Eco-City. Even the visional cities of the Situationists and the Futurists,  with their playful intention, which seem to be beyond the term of functionality, they are essentially within the concept of the functional city, fulfilling solely the function of leisure (even if it is quite sophisticated). The functionality, is emerging as the supreme goal of the city, as the fulfillment of the idea of the city. It’s like saying that a city is a city when it works and survives. This, at once, ignores centuries of history when city was identified primarily by the possibility and density of relationships. We are talking about mixed compact cities meaning the mixing and the density of functions and not necessarily the mixing of people and constructing  relationships of people, which is finally the city.

There is a trap, in exactly what these 4 functions of the city are, something that escapes us. Dwelling, work, recreation, transportation, it seems simple-what else could be the city; The problem of these 4 categories was highlighted by  Despotopoulos, a Greek architect who took part in the 4th Ciam, and who later, in ’52, proposed some new categories.
He proposed to think of economic structure  instead of just  work, of co-LIVING instead of housing, of social space instead of recreation. He overrides the circulation, as it is obvious that we cannot face the transportation equally as a function of the city, transportation can’ t be a city’s ultimate goal, and  in its place puts a very important function of the city, the ideological formation, which should be a priority, especially in a globalized environment. So he proposes a plan aimed at the “idea of the city” and not to the solution of traffic. The ideological formation- context is certainly not something static and each era creates its own.

It is obvious that through the categories of  Despotopoulos emerges a radical other model of city, in its nature, a city of relations. As they were the cities of the past. This idea of ​​the city, along with the four new categories he set, seems to be forgotten. We are not talking about economic constitution, social space,  ideological context, and co-living. We are Talking about housing, recreation, work, mobility, even when it seems we are talking about something else. Words are not innocent. The words we use make up the city.

And this can be seen in the examples of the most popular, high-publicity projects for Athens now…”

Read more on the presentation below