2015 | Dec
Lack of public spaces and green areas in Athens is not a new problem. A wide range of issues plaguing urban planning and development in Athens did not allow the formation of a “spacious” city. The results are extremely negative for quality of life and the urban environment. In 1997, Athens had about 2.5 sq.m. of green areas per inhabitant, compared to an average of 7 sq.m. in European cities (Gianniris 2013). The issue gained in prominence and its political aspects were highlighted during the past two decades, thanks to the work of dozens of organisations and collectives. During that time, almost all public spaces or unbuilt plots in the city were at risk, as they were incorporated in ‘valorisation’ plans by public and private sector bodies.
However, it was collective citizen action that defended public ownership, called for upgrades in the urban environment and lobbied in favour of creating communal spaces – with some success. The map (under construction) shows 154 areas where public and unbuilt spaces became the loci of collective action over the last 15 years. These urban movements promoted use value over exchange value, highlighted the importance of quality of life over unsustainable development. In a sense these movements represent the struggle for the “right to the city”. The Olympic Games and the current management of the crisis were both significant milestones in the development of city movements.
Mobilisation to protect public spaces, and to demand and promote the public use of unbuilt plots went through various stages to do with the composition, action, networking, requests and practices of urban movements. On the other hand, the political environment in which each action developed was very relevant. We could distinguish four phases in the development of urban movements for public spaces:
- a. the early stage, lasting until the mid 90s
- b. the phase of the formation of movements to address the consequences of shrinking public spaces in the city due to projects related to the Olympics
- c. the phase of the renewal and enrichment of movements through the entry of new collectives and the expansion of their actions, and
- d. the crisis period, during which commercialisation policies for public spaces intensified and the action of movements decreased.
In the first –early– period of urban movements, one can observe activities in various parts of the city, mainly reactions to the privatisation of public spaces and to major investments or initiatives aiming at the protection of specific areas. There was little sense of unity between those struggles and no networking and coordination. Thus, the efforts were sparse and fragmented.
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