For Steve and me The ABCitiEs interregional meeting was our first time visiting Athens and we were not disappointed. Prior to the interregional meeting commencing, we had the opportunity to explore some of the fantastic archaeological sites. We wandered around the ancient Agora, once the centre of public life in the city, before heading to the Acropolis. Visiting the Parthenon and the Odeon of Herides Atticus will live long in our memory, the calm and majesty providing an ideal antithesis to the vibrancy and bustle of the city below us.
By Gareth Roberts
The 'real' Athens
The meeting itself began with a walking tour led by George Mavrommatis. After taking in the typical tourist sites the previous day, this tour allowed us to see more of the ‘real’ Athens, and learn about the changes that have taken place in the city, particularly over the last decade. The spread of gentrification in the city, sometimes encroaching in to areas that have developed and flourished as home to migrant communities, resulting in contestation and tensions, was very interesting to hear about.
The work we are undertaking in Manchester with district centres around the city has highlighted similar issues, with tensions amongst local citizens commonplace – to varying degrees – in many of the places we have worked. The challenge, rendered ever more important as Government and local authority funding continues to fall, is how local communities can come together and collaborate to enact positive change in their places. We saw some great examples of this in Athens, with the Romantso creative hub, which acts as a business incubator and hosts events for the local community, and the retail collective around the Aiolou street area, who have sought to collaborate to reinvigorate an area that was in danger of falling in to terminal decline.
Instigating citizen participation and encouraging collaborative activity is a difficult task, as all of the partners involved in this project will attest. Our research in Manchester has shown that local communities are almost always unaware of the impact that they can have in their places, and embedding this realization is the first step to achieving this. What the work of our partners in Athens and our other partner regions shows, is that achieving change is well within the capabilities of our communities – particularly if they work together. Over the two days of meetings, the variation in the cases presented by the partner regions show that this change can be achieved in many ways, and the lessons learnt from their experiences will certainly contribute to our work in Manchester, as we seek to embed policy that encourages and facilitates collaboration across the city region.