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Integration and urban inclusion

The case study of Athens at the Biennale of Architecture in Lyon

Lyon, 3 July 2017 | Published in Urban
Pictures by Nicolas Melemis
Pictures by Nicolas Melemis

Housing Europe Communications Director, Michalis Goudis was invited to contribute to the International Summit that was held on July 2nd by Paris-Malaquais School of Architecture within the framework of the Biennale of Architecture in Lyon. The event that was actually a dynamic workshop under the title “Unlearning from Athens” was used by Professors, Steven Melemis and Marc Armengaud as an opportunity to bring together a diverse group of discussants around central questions related to integration of certain population groups and urban inclusion. What can Athens learn from other European cities? How could be realistic interventions that may be indeed implemented given the difficult current context of the crisis? Which is the link between territories and communities?

The day kicked off with an introduction to the Metropolitan model of administration of Lyon by its Vice-President, responsible for urbanism and housing, Michel Le Faou who explained the multiple advantages that derive from this structure. Mr. Le Faou claimed that this scheme could indeed be replicated by other big cities across Europe, such as Athens, provided that the division of responsibilities and of power is clear between the various communes and regions. According to the VP of Lyon Metropole a lot of projects are realized in the city thanks to the growing impact of PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships), particularly when it comes to big scale development like in the area of Confluence where the Biennale was also held- actually in a former sugar factory.

As far as housing is concerned, 10.000 homes are built every year in Lyon, 4.000 of them are part of the social housing stock with the French social housing associations (HLM) playing a key role. Mr. Le Faou highlighted that in Lyon over the last 15 years new homes have been tripled while social housing has been doubled.

Marc Armengaud and Steven Melemis shared with the international audience the particularities of the Greek situation both in terms of financial limitation and in terms of political and administrational complexities. “How does one restart an urban economy?” asked Marc, who presented the three main axes for the responses that the students of Paris-Malaquais came up with:

  1. Medium-scale, realistic projects can have the biggest impact or in other words “le mezzo makes the mezze” (as mezze are defined small dishes that are served in the beginning of the meal, very typical in Greek dining).
  2. Is the city capable to give everyone the same? The urban form is a matter of choice.
  3. Involving urban stakeholders and working closely with them is key.

‘Urban Kaïros/Unlearning From Athens’ is a project based on 70 urban proposals produced over 6 years of master's level workshops and studios of the Ecole nationale supérieure d'architecture de Paris-Malaquais, with the National Technical Institute of Athens Architecture School.

  1. The typology of empty spaces and buildings, 2. the need for a new deal for involving the local communities, 3. the various flows that affect the urban continuity, 4. the importance of common/communal spaces, 5. the link to the ground, 6. the alternative responses that could revitalize the economy at small scale and 7. the social reflexes that could promote schemes of self-organization.

Seven ideas submitted by the students triggered the debate of the day, inviting participants to work together on a broader plan that can be further promoted in the city Athens. Below we put together some of the highlights of the debate.

Michalis on behalf of Housing Europe made the case for the central role of affordable housing both for the integration of populations but also for the inclusion of certain areas into the urban environment. Michalis explained the role the European Federation for Public, Cooperative and Social Housing is playing in Brussels, while he mentioned a few successful projects carried out by Housing Europe members that could work as source of inspiration for the working group on the case study of Athens. He also invited everyone to remove the word ‘crisis’ from the public debate around refugees, as this is the new reality and this should be the way to deal with both at political and at social level. Finally, Michalis offered to follow up this event with further support in any way that could make the actual implementation of some of these projects possible.

Political Scientist, Sébastien Thièry who has been coordinating the actions of PEROU (Pole of Exploration of Urban Resources) among others in the Camp of Calais underlined the necessity to make the link between human and urban resources and to overall “recompose” the way people perceive the whole migration issue. Sébastien invited participants to “rethink the future hospitality”.

Architect Haris Biskos from the Municipality of Athens explained how the local authorities thanks to the innovative ‘SynAthina’ platform (that has been awarded the 2014 prize in Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge) are making use of the existing intelligence in citizens’ initiatives and make the administrative work more effective. Haris stressed that this online tool aims to allow citizens to register their projects, pushing the participatory process further.

Kira Bessa, the Project Leader of ‘WelCommon’ showed how the social enterprise ‘Wind of Renewal’ turned a former clinic into a temporary housing solution for refugees that also empowers them to integrate into the life of Athens.

The Professor of the Polytechnic School of Athens, Maria Markou highlighted from her side that at this moment in Greece it is extremely important not only to focus on the problems but to have a look at the potential, the right to choice and the right to the dream. “We have to create dreams for people who are facing difficulties”, she said.

Georgios Alexandrou, Curator of Architecture in Elefsis 2021, as Elefsina will be the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2021, identified the key elements of the work behind the transformation of the largest industrialized area in Greece, just in the outskirts of Athens, with a focus in the use of empty buildings and the added value that the port brings to the area.

The Cultural Attaché of France to Greece, Muriel Piquet-Viaux underlined that small groups of people along with foundations have been actually changing the scene in Athens lately, while the Vice-President of the Biennale, Franck Hulliard gave a tone of optimism in the end, claiming that many metropolises would envy the characteristics of Athens which is indeed an ideal laboratory city that can be developed despite the adversities. Incentivizing private investors should be among the priorities, he said.