2021 | Jan
The neighborhood of Dourgouti, even today, is a distinct and clearly defined urban environment inside the fabric of modern Athens. Today’s migrants, are “undesirable” as were the first inhabitants of the area, the refugees of Asia Minor. They revive “unwanted” buildings, socialize in public spaces in the neighborhood and redefine its living conditions. Based on Foucault’s heterotopia principles, I am attempting here to explore the characteristics of this neighborhood, not only in terms of its character, but also in terms of its interaction with the city. Culture, habits, social patterns, the acquired way of habitation are elements which together with individuality, collegiality and memory created the current landscape of this neighborhood and its narrative.
Perhaps, in the past, we would define the community as a neighborhood, not only with geographical boundaries but also with certain shared functions and social relationships between its inhabitants. The present-day community in the case study area could be defined as the random product of the choices of individuals who possibly have many identities. The landscape of multiple identities that emerges in the neighborhood of the Neos Kosmos offers us a new method of managing the “multicultural” reality of Athens. It is an opportunity to look at urban space from another perspective and a challenge to imagine the city we want. By understanding the way immigrant neighborhoods like this are constructed and they way they function, new and different approaches could emerge and influence the spatial and urban planning of Athens .
Heterotopia Dourgouti: The spatial and social change of a place from the Asia Minor catastrophe to present-day immigration
|«There are also places of this kind which are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias» (Foucault 2012: 260) (Photo 1).|
The neighborhood of Dourgouti, even today, is a distinct and clearly defined urban environment in the fabric of modern Athens. Today’s immigrants, are “undesirable” as were the first inhabitants of the area, the refugees of Asia Minor. They revive “unwanted” buildings, socialize in the public spaces of the neighborhood and redefine its living conditions. The neighborhood of Dourgouti, therefore, is first of all a residential complex bounded by Siggrou Av. and Ilia Iliou Av., two “hard” boundaries which cut the neighbourhood off from the surrounding area which is dominated by apartment blocks. At the same time, the neighborhood of Dourgouti, is also a distinct social environment. The housing stock of refugee  and low rent apartment buildings attracts mainly economic migrants, who arrive in Greece in search of work. This is not, of course, an absolute rule, since many descendants of Asia Minor refugees and Greek immigrants of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation live there. In other words, the area maintains a specific social structure, distinct from that of the surrounding area (Βαΐου Ντ. 2007, Μυωφά & Παπαδιάς 2016).
Photo 1: No escape, landing on P. Faliro
Source: Personal file
The coexistence of the “indigenous” inhabitants of the neighborhood with the new “immigrants” does not cause any particular problems, although their identities and cultures are distinctly different. Perhaps because, over time, the presence of the refugee and immigrant populations, especially Armenians, was strong there.
Based on the principles of heterotopia, I will try to explore further the characteristics of this neighborhood, not only in terms of its character, but also in terms of its interaction with the city. On the basis of the first principle, there is, probably, no society and culture in the world that does not create heterotopias. This is a constant tradition of every human group (Foucault 2012: 261).
Thus, “the solution to the problem of housing”, during the Asia Minor refugee settlement as well as during the internal immigration period and present-day immigration, has presented refugees and immigrants as individuals distinct from the rest of society and its culture. As a result, these social groups live separately, in enclave areas for those excluded. These are spaces for those with a different identity and, as a result, it was considered that they ‘must’ reside ‘there’.
On the basis of the second principle of heterotopia, as its history unfolds, a society can make an existing heterotopia which never disappeared, to function in a very different fashion (Foucault 2012: 263). Indeed, in this case study, the general use has always been the same, that of housing for refugees and immigrants. For the “outside” society, in every different period of time, the region seems the same, an area in where refugees and immigrants reside.Previously from Armenia and Asia Minor, now descendants of them and developing world immigrants. In the meantime, however, Dourgouti evolved from a slum to a neighborhood with refugee housing complexes and, later on, apartment buildings of the Ministry of Welfare, maintaining the housing use, in a different form and under different conditions. Today, despite maintaining the same general use, the neighborhood operates under different mechanisms. Within its “hard” limits, different cultures develop and new rules, terms and relationships of coexistence are formed.
The third principle, that a heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing several spaces , several sites that are in themselves incompatible, in a single real place (Foucault 2012: 264), is perceived in our example with the current locations of the inhabitants. We observe separate places of residence of old and new immigrants, places that may be adjacent but are foreign and different from each other. Young immigrants mainly live in the first refugee buildings of 1935 and 1940, while the old immigrants live in the “people’sapartment buildings” of 1969 (Map 1).
Map 1: Old Buildings
Source: Personal file, Visit Providence 8/3/2019
Heterotopias are most often linked to slices in time. The heterochronies are the fourth principle (Foucault 2012: 265). The neighborhood of Dourgouti could be seen as a heterotopia of time, where “the form” of the refugee element accumulates. Buildings that with their presence constitute a “monument” that identifies forms of mass habitation based on the modern movement and western culture of the 20th century. Two forms of modernity in the modern fabric of Athens.
Heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable. In general, the heterotopic site is not freely accessible like a public place. (Foucault 2012: 267). According to the fifth principle such a place has limits. The expressways that bound the area can be considered harsh physical boundaries and a control zone, in combination with the metal wall (Photo 2) used to hang a promotional poster of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
A gesture that, for some residents, was made at this point to hide the neighborhood probably from those who move along Siggrou Avenue (Αυγέα 2014). Boundaries that are not only an impression on the map but also the understood boundaries of the area, creating the enclave that stands out from the surrounding area.
Photo 2: Metal wall, the “artificial border”
Source: Personal file
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