The concrete jungle of Greece’s capital could be transformed into a better place for its residents

If you were to close your eyes and imagine a city you love, you might conjure up images of a river with its bridges reflected in the water and all lit up at night, a sunny square full of people and tables, a line of chestnut trees, richly decorated shop windows, or a saxophonist playing on a cobbled walkway under the drizzle. These are just some of the many aspects of a city, that inseparable union of people and space. From the beginning of time, the city has been the site of a plethora of heterogenous activities: from commerce and culture to revolutions and festivals. It is the crossroads of different races and cultures. This is precisely what constitutes its charm: the acceptance and incorporation of difference, of things from elsewhere. For a city and its residents to prosper, two apparently contradictory things are necessary. Some of the functions and activities of a city – such as traffic management, land use, environmental protection, security, etc. – need constant monitoring and long-term planning by the authorities. Others – such as creativity, the movement and exchange of ideas, gatherings of people for any purpose – have to be left free and untrammelled to enrich the life of the city. In addition, it should have well-tended and attractive public spaces. The city and civilization are propagated in its squares, parks and streets: in places, that is, to which everyone has the right of access and use. The first society of citizens engaged in democratic discourse, for the first time in the history of humankind, under the Attic sky on the rock of the Pnyx. A city and a society whose public spaces and discourses are shrinking or run down is a society that breeds all kinds of evils: loss of values, isolation, marginalization, xenophobia, flashy materialism and corruption. And the opposite is also the case. Public spaces in a city are the mirror of its society and the natural receptacle of its historical memory. (1) Irini Frezadou is an architect and urban planner.

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