In this blog article I explore the opportunities of creating an institutional framework for citizen participation in the new public company Athens Urban Renewal SA.
The consequences of eight years of austerity can be seen everywhere in Athens. The past years have left deep scars in the fabric of the Greek capital: unemployment and homelessness, poverty and public disinvestment, growing social rifts and street riots – paired with a threatening growth of extreme right-wing ideology permeating many aspects of public life (e.g. media, police, justice, church – even schools). At the same time, the number of tourists visiting the capital has risen exponentially, creating tensions in the housing market, as more and more flats turn into holiday rentals, making prices soar. While the art scene is flourishing, youth unemployment remains above 40%. Abandoned buildings and deteriorating public space on the one hand; AirBnBs, vibrant street life, cafés and entertainment venues on the other. I can’t remember Athens so fascinating and so depressing at the same time.
The Municipality of Athens has undertaken a series of measures to tackle those issues, including the renewal of central neighbourhoods and the rehabilitation of municipal buildings among others (s. Vaiou 2018 for a critical assessment of the reuse of the former municipal market). Additionally, a new public organization with the telling name of AthensUrban Renewal S.A. (Athens Anaplasis SA.) was founded, complementing the actions of the Municipality. I was asked by its President, Prof Nikos Belavilas, to join the advisory scientific committee of this new state agent, an invitation which I gladly accepted, as I see here the opportunity to institutionalize citizen participation in urban development. Continue reading “Principles of citizen participation in urban development in Athens”→
The speed of change in retail is having a real impact on places. From ghost malls to dark stores in North America and the headline-hitting town centre vacancy across much of Europe, it is easy to be persuaded that we are nearing the end of bricks and mortar retail. Those of us working in place management know this is not the case but there are plenty of recent examples of how once a story gets a hold, the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling. This is why the Institute welcomed the re-emergence of the Great British High Street Awards. Promoted by the UK Government at Ministerial level and with strong backing from principal sponsor Visa, the initiative had sufficient weight to gain media attention and make its own headlines over an extended period, culminating in an award ceremony on 15 November.
At the end of October, I attended the Great Rivers Forum 2018 in Wuhan, China, which was jointly organised by the UNESCO Beijing Office, the Changjiang Civilization Museum and the Municipal Government of Wuhan. The forum is now a biannual event, which serves as an international platform of idea exchange and knowledge sharing for inland waterways experts and managers, and this year the focus was on sustainability. The location is perfect for discussing everything watery, as Wuhan has two major rivers flowing through it: China’s longest, the Yangtze, or as it is called in Chinese, Changjiang River; as well as the Han River, which is the Yangtze’s longest tributary and after which both the Han dynasty, as well as the Han Chinese ethnic group, both take their name. This metropolis of 11 million inhabitants is also known in China as the ‘river city’; yet in addition to the rivers, there are also 166 lakes in the city, making up a quarter of its territory. One of the largest of the inner city lakes in China, the East Lake (Dong Hu), is also located there, with the ‘East Lake Greenway’ area covering 88 sq. km, functioning as both a recreational area for the locals, as well as one of the city’s tourist attractions. The Greenway itself is a good example of environmentally informed and sustainable urban planning. The linear greenway around the lake only allows for sustainable modes of mobility, such as cycling, walking, and the occasional vehicle for tour groups and those with mobility issues. The Mobikes that recently left Manchester have a strong presence both on the Greenway as well as in the city of Wuhan.
Forest fires devastate large areas on the Mediterranean every year, some of them – such as the 2018 fire in Mati, Greece which cost 100 people their lives – with numerous casualties. These are places, built over decades or centuries, where people live the year round, with or without visitors. It is with growing horror that I read – year after year – media outlets referring to these places as “holiday islands” (or “Ferieninsel” in German). Admittedly, for many Brits and Germans, this is what most of these islands are, and the local population is just a folklore backdrop for their holiday spending. But, even if we see it just from the journalist’s viewpoint: what exactly would the article (s. screenshot above) miss in terms of information if its title were “Wildfires hit Greek island” omitting the attribute “holiday”? Continue reading “Places – not Destinations”→
Iwas recently invited to give a keynote speech at the Annual General Meeting of Leeds Business Improvement District (LeedsBID) which is a business-led, not-for-profit, non political organisation that networks over nearly 1,000 business and organisations and raises over £2.4m per year of additional income to invest in the city. And Leeds is doing very well. Footfall is up, investment is up, the local economy is buoyant.
But cities have always been agglomerators of key industries, infrastructure and jobs. They accommodate important services and facilities in a spatially-efficient manner. Not every town or city can have its own banking sector or its own airport etc. It makes sense to strengthen our cities because they need to serve a wide geographical catchment. Continue reading “Big city BIDs and their role in regional economies”→
The Treacle Market takes place on the last Sunday of each month in the Cheshire town of Macclesfield, UK. Over 160 stalls sell local delicacies, vintage clothes, antiques and handicrafts. The streets of Macclesfield bustle with life, attracting people from towns and villages in the area. However, this regionally important event recently received a serious blow: in April 2018 the partly subsided bus services in Cheshire East – run by Arriva, a subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn (German Rail), the latter property of the German state – were reorganized, with the result that villages were left without connecting buses on week-day evenings and all day on Sunday.
“As IPM research has shown, accessibility is the number 1 factor affecting town centre vitality and viability. For many communities, the local bus service is imperative. Especially for people with mobility issues. What may be considered as edge of town to someone who is able-bodied is not walkable for others.”
In my article “Fête de la Soupe”: Rural identity, self-representation, and the (re)-making of the village in France, I report on the time I spent during my dissertation fieldwork in a village in Auvergne. While working on understanding local heritage management strategies and the ways in which villagers get attached to the place they inhabit and perceive changes in their everyday rural landscape, I had the chance to follow the planning of various local activities and take part in community events. Considered from the outside, winter in Auvergne might seem like an inhospitable time, when nature is at rest, the atmosphere humid and muffled, and the horizon often shortened by heavy fog. But Charroux proved that assumption to be wrong. The annual Fête de la Soupe -or soup festival- gave me an opportunity to watch a community in action as it promoted itself and displayed its idea of what it means to be a rural locality in today’s France. The present study aims at understanding how the communal preparation and consumption of soup once a year has affected festival participants, they relationship with each other and their relationship with the place they inhabit.
Festivals are traditionally community events, expressions local culture celebrating a successful harvest or aspects of a region and its people. Festivals are powerful engines of place-making. As major events, modern festivals are promoted widely and make potent contributions to place branding, tourism and place identity. As such, large festivals must be professionally managed to ensure success and minimise risks. In managing such large events there is a possibility that local authenticity can be lost if festival organisers apply a dominant ‘top-down’ approach. The top-down event management can create a same-ness amongst festivals, diluting the brand and limiting local participation and engagement. This tension between professionally managing a major event, such as a festival, and the desirable authenticity of bottom-up community involvement can be managed with the inclusion of fringe-festivals. Fringe festivals allow for experimentation and innovation, which are necessary for the long term sustainability of a major festival. With experimentation comes risk, but by allowing experimentation in the form of a fringe festival the risk is managed and largely mitigated. Fringe festivals can also allow bottom-up community involvement, reflecting wider aspects of the local community and adding authenticity and diversity to the festival proper.
Alternative currencies have been around for many years, to the point that they can be seen as a rather old technology for dealing with societal, economic, and developmental changes. Indeed, the first forms of alternative currencies were presented during the cash-poor interwar era in Europe and the US as an attempt to incentivise spending, discourage saving, and keep local economies afloat in a time of severe unemployment, poverty, and uncertainty (NEF, 2015). Fast forward almost 90 years, and similar issues pertain to the vast majority of our cities and towns, not only in the UK, but around the world. Unsurprisingly, alternative currencies are on the rise in various forms: timebanks, time-credit systems, local exchange trading systems, complementary currencies, convertible local currencies that are backed by the national currency, etc. More recently, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have risen to prominence and gained immense political and monetary value as decentralised transactional networks that injected a huge influx of money into a new marketplace that was ready to dismiss the old system of fiat money (Matchett, 2017).
CounterCoin, a new alternative currency developed by a team of economic and social development practitioners, while still in its infancy, is already helping people make a change to the town centre of Newcastle-under-Lyme. We were recently invited to a meeting in the “headquarters” of CounterCoin, the Cultural Squatters community café in York Place shopping centre, in order to join the team spearheading the creation of this new alternative currency. Continue reading “CounterCoin and Cultural Squatters in Newcastle-Under-Lyme”→