Case Study Athens:

Conflicts and Coexistence in Urban Space

Almost 80 thousand refugees are stuck in Greece due to closed borders across the so-called Balkan route and the March 2016 deal between the European Union and Turkey, which was developed in order to block the flow of displaced people to Europe. Despite these barriers, newcomers continue to arrive in Greece. The number of asylum applications per capita in Greece is, after Cyprus, the highest in Europe, according to Eurostad figures. While there is enormous overcrowding of reception camps on the Greek islands – some of the camps are home to four or five times as many people as they were built for1 – the number of immigrants living in cities on the mainland has also been increasing. Homeless migrants dominate the streets in Athens’ inner city.2 Given the fluidity of migration patterns, accurate data is elusive. Officially, the migrant population in Athens represented 10,5 % of all inhabitants in 2011,3 without including the large numbers of undocumented migrants living in the city.

This project takes the inner city of Athens as case study because of its unique characteristics in terms of organisation of migration in urban space compared to other European cities. Unlike cities in Northern Europe, in Athens there has been no zoning or widespread segregation between migrants and native inhabitants, due to the spatial structure of the built environment. One could say that ‘in Athens everything coexists within walking distance.5 Newcomers, migrants who have been living in the city for years and locals often live in the same multi-storey apartment buildings. The project particularly focuses on the area from Omonia square to Victoria square. This is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods, housing a large number of migrants.

Analysis 5:

Establishing a sense of common(s)

Although the antiparochi system led to a lack of open outdoor areas and a broader neglect for public values in urban development, in the past years various local community initiatives have been trying to counter the former individualistic urbanist impetus. These initiatives have been looking for new collaborative ways to (re)claim shared spaces in the city centre of Athens. From attempts to transform parking lots into community-managed parks and efforts to revitalize empty buildings as public spaces to initiatives organising food provision, neighbourhood assemblies and language schools.

Professor of architecture, Stavros Stavrides calls it a new form of commons; others a new kind of urbanism born of a spirit of solidarity that emerged in the aftermath of the financial- and refugee crisis. These initiatives of self-management and collective ownership provide both newcomers and more permanent inhabitants with communal spaces and services that used to be taken care of by the state. However, most of these initiatives are still searching for legal, spatial and financial structures to support themselves on the long term.

Common use of a space

The general absence of open outdoor areas in central Athens extends to both the public and private domain. While public spaces in some cases are seen as critical to fostering societal cohesion and tolerance of difference, shared private- or semi-public spaces also function as communal places that offer intimacy and security and develop more localized community ties. An interesting example is Navarinou Park in the neighbourhood of Exarchia. In 2009, an open-air parking lot was occupied by Athenians and in transformed into a green public space. In a few months, inhabitants removed the asphalt and planted trees and plants. Since there was a lot of nuisance from drug users, undocumented migrants and homeless people who came together in the park and slept there, it was decided to turn Navarinou park from a public space into a self-managed community space. A group of residents became responsible for running the park and a fence was created, so that the space could be closed during the night. During the day time, several people could still use the park.