By Dimitris Rigopoulos
Pittaki is a relatively small pedestrianized street in the downtown Athens neighborhood of Psyrri that leads to central Ermou. It is home mainly to warehouses, a handful of businesses that see little traffic and a small smattering of apartment blocks, while at night it is mostly deserted.
A team calling itself Imagine the City chose this street for a rejuvenation initiative that is being backed by private sponsors that is somewhat experimental: an art installation composed of lighting fixtures donated to the project by residents in the area and other people will transform Pittaki Street from a dimly-lit crossing to a lively promenade that will host a series of different events and happenings over the next 12 months.
The first phase of the project was launched last weekend, inviting Athenians to donate lighting fixtures and lamps they no longer use: a glass ball from Morocco, a hand-made lamp with the word “light” written in many different languages on its shade, a fixture for a wall from the 1940s, a shade with a floral design that was found on a sidewalk, were among the donations made. The team will continue collecting through next weekend at its workshop on 15 Pittaki, and all manner of appliances and shades were welcome.
The lights will then be put into the hands of a company specializing in professional lighting, Beforelight, with the project slated for its unveiling on Friday, November 30, during a big street party.
Imagine the City has a program of events organized for the next 12 months after the launch, whose aim is to help transform Pittaki Street into a neighborhood hub, a place that will attract new businesses, residents and foot traffic.
According to members of Imagine the City, the project, which has been dubbed “Syn-Oikia Pittaki,” was inspired by a previous project executed by Beforelight in Thessaloniki in the context of a city-wide, one-day event aimed at showcasing a different image of the northern port.
In Pittaki, however, the project will be on a much grander scale and will run for an entire year. The project is being carried out in close cooperation with the City of Athens and is being backed by private sponsors, mainly Coca-Cola.
Why, though, was Pittaki Street chosen as the ideal location for the project?
“Pittaki Street is an entrance into the broader Psyrri neighborhood, and despite the fact that it is visible from Ermou, the traffic of residents, passers-by and visitors is gradually declining,” said one member of the team who wished to remain anonymous. “The maze of surrounding streets hosts a mixture of residential buildings and stores, small businesses and traditional crafts, which are also dying away. This mixture of activities represents what a traditional Athenian neighborhood once looked like. Workshops and antique dealers selling old lights and furniture are very much a part of this identity and of the identity of our project, comprising an excellent subject for this small-scale experiment of urban regeneration.”
How does the group envisage the street looking six months from now? “Familiar, hospitable, full of life, color and light.”
Boding well for the venture is the fact that Emprar Street in Thessaloniki, where a similar event was held for just one night, has since seen more activity and is gradually transforming from a ghost street to a lively part of the city.
“We hope that within the context of a broader strategic plan designed by the City of Athens for the rebirth of the center, this project will open up new possibilities for economic and social activity, by comprising a new attraction in the neighborhood.”