2017 | Feb
Urban public space is a social construction, resulting from power relations on contrasting views and practices concerning its control and management. In this paper, I explore the ways public space is eventually produced through the tension among contrasting territorial productions in the squares of Exarcheia, Agios Panteleimonas and Syntagma. In this analysis, I use Kärrholm’s (2007, 2005) framework on the territorial production of space (table 1).
Table 1: Forms of territorial production (Kärrholm, 2007)
Deleuze and Guattari (1972, 1980) describe territory as a delimited area of control; a different reality dominates outside its borderlines. A territory operates as a device that produces a certain order in the form of an assemblage that brings together heterogeneous elements. Moreover, a territory produces identities that relate to processes of exclusion and inclusion through rules, signs and directions. Finally, a territory does not exclusively refer to physical space but also to invented domains, such as the domain of philosophy. Following the above, territorial production constitutes a process through which delimited areas of control are produced and established.
According to Kärrholm (2005), the manifestation of power relations in public space can be analyzed as a process of tensions among differentiated territorial productions in the form of associations, appropriations, strategies and tactics. Associations and appropriations constitute the unplanned consequences of established and regular practices and do not express intentional claims of control. Strategies and tactics, on the contrary, constitute intentional attempts of control over public space and express specific claims. Tactics constitute personal claims of control on behalf of specific groups and develop within physical space. On the contrary, strategies develop outside physical space and constitute impersonal, usually mediated, attempts of control in the form of rules and directions.
In this article, I analyse primary data originating from my PhD thesis, entitled ‘Public space as a field of urban struggle. Everyday life practices as the outcome of power relations’’ , at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, School of Architecture, NTUA. My research was based upon an inductive, mixed methodological approach consisting of an ethnographic study (direct and participative observation, semi-structured and in depth interviews) and a survey comprising questionnaires addressed to a random sample of users in each square. Field research took place from May to September 2014, while additional observations were conducted in the Spring of 2015.
This article is not a brief presentation of the aforementioned thesis but rather an attempt to re-examine my data through the deployment of the territorial production framework. Thus, while in my PhD thesis I focus on interactions between key urban actors, in this article I also focus on the tensions and conflicts between different and often contrasting territorial productions.
Exarcheia Square is situated within the Exarcheia district neat the city centre, while the surrounding area hosts mixed land uses (residential, commercial and recreational). Two sets of established practices in the square and the broader district create the associations and appropriations upon which contemporary conflicts and power relations are developed .
Those sets include: 1) the use of the square by social movements and local political groups, due to the high density of social and political initiatives in the Exarcheia district and 2) the massive cannabis use in the square by its users and visitors.
Resulting consequences of the aforementioned sets of practices include: 1) the establishment of a ‘radical territory’ on the symbolic level, developed upon a strong symbolic cohesion among local movements, political groups, users of the square and part of local businesses, 2) regular appropriations from social movements and political groups and 3) everyday life associations concerning cannabis use and the emergence of the square as a place for cannabis purchase and use.
Along with these practices and territorial productions, ‘peripheral’ tactics have also been established. Those tactics are not developed by the aforementioned collective actors (local movements and political groups) and include regular clashes between groups of young people and the police outside any political context, attacks on political groups, degradation of the physical and cultural environment , and, finally, the establishment of aggressive groups that are related to drug dealing activities. The aforementioned territorial productions in total (associations, appropriations and peripheral tactics) are accompanied by further consequences that include the limited presence of institutional urban actors (the police, services of the Municipality of Athens) and the exclusion of large parts of district’s residents, such as children, families and the elderly, from the square.
Conditions of exclusion, as portrayed above, constitute the base upon contemporary conflicts have emerged and are the results of two territorial productions, namely the associations, related to cannabis use on the behalf of large part of the square’s users and visitors and the exclusionary tactics developed by local aggressive groups. Those groups, in an attempt to establish themselves and legitimize their presence, attempt to exploit the symbolic cohesion within the district and present themselves as a part of the local movement with, which, however, have no actual ties. Moreover, those groups move on violent attacks against residents, visitors and participants in local movements.
|“One cannot cross through the square, to sit there. Thus, the square instantly turns into a place that is used only by certain people. Additionally, the issue with the mafia, beside drug dealing is… that at the same time there is a great amount of violence. Violence between the dealers, against the residents, when someone asks them to leave there is actual physical violence, not verbal. We have noticed that there are connections with the schools, they exploit the economic crisis, families survive in tough economic conditions and they use children as dealers. At the same time, a long established system related to business protection is involved and this system also developed drug dealing activities. They have established their own passages, they have control over the flow of people in the square. It is not solely control over dealing but also a control over peoples and their flows”, Committee of Exarcheia Residents’ Initiative|
Concerning the police presence, local movements are accusing them for either doing nothing to stop drug dealing or supporting it.
|“The police and the state in general support it (drug dealing). We all know that the Greek state knows exactly what is going on and wants drug dealing to take place here in order to control it.” Local business owner|
Attempts to tackle exclusionary conditions n Exarcheia Square, in the form of strategies and tactics, are developed on the behalf of local movements and businesses. Both independently and through a common structure (Exarcheia Peoples’ Meeting) that was created in spring 2014, the aforementioned actors have developed strategies and tactics that simultaneously attempt to directly confront drug dealing and its agents’ tactics and also create conditions of inclusion for the excluded groups of residents. Additionally, having anticipated local aggressive groups’ attempts to usurp the symbolic cohesion of the district, they re-define meanings and notions, such as freedom. To this end, they have created and extensively use the term ‘social cannibalism’ in order to describe the practices of antagonistic groups, whose sole purpose is the establishment of their power to the detriment of all others and the consequent results of exclusion.
|“These groups are trying to usurp political groups or notions and on many occasions they claim actions in their name. There is, for example, a drug dealer who sees you with a shaved head and he says, ‘I am an anarchist, you are skinhead, I consider you a fascist and I will beat you up.’” Committee of Exarcheia Residents’ Initiative|
The aforementioned actors’ strategies include the creation of territories within which those actors are the major influencers in terms of management and control and the reinvention of dominant notions and meanings. In terms of tactics, territories in which drug dealing and tactics of exclusion are not tolerated are created, while there are also attempts to re-establish lost associations of the excluded groups of residents through the introduction of new uses and the creation of physical infrastructure, designed for use from those groups.
Table 2: Contrasting territorial productions in Exarcheia Square
The aforementioned contrasting territorial productions co-exist in space but not in time. Territorial productions of exclusion have been established through their embodiment in the everyday life and the rhythms of the square. On the contrary, territorial productions of inclusion constitute ‘external’ creations. The case of Exarcheia Square makes it clear that control over a public space that is based mainly on the symbolic level and occasional use, without foundations built on uses and practices at the level of everyday life, is unstable and vulnerable. This parameter however, seems to be anticipated on the behalf of actors that pursuit an inclusive public space. Towards this end, their tactics and strategies attempt to intervene in everyday life through the establishment of practices and structures of self-reproductive nature, such as the creation of stable infrastructure addresses to the excluded parts of the district’s residents and the creation of a political venue that hosts the Exarcheia Peoples’ Meeting in the square, a development accompanied by interventions and actions on the level of everyday life.
|“There is a form of resistance but it has to take place in a more organized manner, with continuous massive actions in the square […] It is important to establish differentiated uses, to make people appropriate the square, so that they will not wait for the Residents’ Committee or Squat A to bring new uses. Those who are there must take actions, even if we are three people playing music. Is it possible to do our rehearsals in the square? Public space must be open to appropriation by everyone. Can we develop our everyday activity there?”, Committee of Exarcheia Residents’ Initiative|
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