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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