The challenge presented by provincial Edessa

«Thessaloniki would have a better feel if it put its trust in landscape architects, according to a leading practitioner in the field. They would study its open and built-up spaces and consider how to make the city more beautiful, healthy, environmentally friendly, and competitive, a city one should live in or visit,» renowned American landscape architect Martha Schwartz told Kathimerini. She may have been in Thessaloniki for just a few hours, but her experienced eye spotted the city’s drawbacks: traffic congestion, and the lack of greenery and open spaces. However this would require strong leadership and, of course, political will. Schwartz said the mayor of Edessa was brave to be the first Greek mayor to invite a landscape architect of international renown to revamp an urban city. She visited Edessa, in northern Greece, in late January, spoke with local authorities and studied the area and its history to get ideas for refurbishment of the 3.6-hectare area around the stadium. Schwartz will work on it jointly with the postgraduate design department of Aristotle University. Though she has done scores of urban refurbishment projects in her 30-year career, and has 15 currently in progress, Schwartz said Edessa was one of her biggest challenges. «When a mayor wonders how to rebuild the city, he is basically asking how he can advance the city, in terms of the economy, environment and contemporary living conditions,» she said. «But we live in a global economy and the issue is what that means for a provincial town. What is the right thing to choose from that complex environment? That’s the challenge, how to make a provincial city open up.» Schwartz said she felt humbled by Edessa’s social and cultural riches. «I had a strong sense of its heritage. History can hold you back, but there I noticed an exceptional balance between the acknowledgment and preservation of history and cultural heritage, and making the most of it to create history for the future.» Her project will focus on the natural environment. «The combination of forest and water impressed me. It’s a powerful feeling. Especially at the waterfall, you feel as if you are floating. The question is what you do to preserve it, how you modernize it, and how you use it to give it a new identity while also boosting the local economy, as well as what rules you put in place so the project will last for the next 100 years.» And there is the matter of a new identity. «Edessa is at a stage where it can be compared directly with the rest of the world as an independent entity.»