Improving urban living

If the city is civilization’s greatest invention, as Lewis Mumford claimed, why does everyone dream of a house in the country? It has partly to do with the state of urban housing. Cities underwent the first great changes during the Industrial Revolution, and urban housing was the first issue of the modernists in the early 20th century, with an emphasis on social housing and upgrading the living standards of the poor. Though there were many innovative ideas, zoning created problematic areas in large cities (huge residential blocks and unused land in the suburbs). Greece didn’t have those problems but urbanization found it without town planning, architects out of the game and builders catering to all tastes. Changes in the social classes, smaller families, an increase in singles and people sharing accommodation, along with new needs for home as a place of work and leisure can reshape the classic apartment. The slow response to new needs is due to a lack of interest from investors in construction and the prevalence of conservative notions of housing. Improvement demands continuity between private space, intermediate space and public space. We must remember that the archetype of a city residence is a house with a courtyard. Intermediate spaces (for each city block) are essential for collective activity. Upgrading public spaces (roads and squares) helps to create a healthy residential environment. These must be goals not only for planners but also for society and the state. Dimitris Tsakalakis is an architect.

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