Diagnosing the city under crisis: Athens

Virtues, Sweepers and Changing Values

A multimedia research collective, The City at a Time of Crisis, has inaugurated a rich project to cartograph and analyse the changing dimensions of urban life in the city of Athens, under the regime of crisis.  The endeavour is noteworthy and the collective has already produced a great wealth of material.

From the website, the presentation of the project …

City at the Time of Crisis is a research project that seeks to trace and research the effects of the ongoing financial crisis on urban public spaces in Athens, Greece.  It will comprise a holistic, cross-disciplinary study of changing notions of the 'public', with urban public spaces as its main research subject extending into areas related to ‘public interest’, ‘public security’, ‘public provision’ and the ‘public good’. Although Greece might be an extreme example of an ongoing transnational transformation, the consequences of this global financial and political crisis nevertheless extend beyond the debt-ridden state. The Greek experience exemplifies an emergent mode of governance that is suggestive of a generalised state restructuring across substantial sections of the world: as an example, state cut-backs echoing the Greek experiment were quick to follow in a number of EU countries, whether those suffering 'public debt contagion' (e.g. Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain) or those now suffering a fiscal uncertainty unimaginable even a few years ago (e.g. the UK and the USA).

As the financial crisis spreads across various regions of the world, then, and as new paradigms of governance emerge, a formidable effect on the material reality of local populations can be witnessed, with entire districts being turned into zones of public unrest and conflict. Major incidents of social unrest are now occurring in cities that had been relatively orderly in the recent past (e.g. London or New York) while the public spatial dynamics of other places that have encountered such phenomena more frequently are now changing beyond recognition (e.g. Athens).

Greece is one of the countries most severely affected by the current financial crisis. Since spring 2010, when the Greek government and IMF/EU/ECB agreed on the largest loan ever received by a single country ($110 billion), Greece has seen sweeping transformations in the character of its polity and state functions. A main element of these transformations is the reconfiguration/privatisation of state assets including infrastructures, utility power and substantial real estate, along with higher education and public health. In this way, the Greek version of the crisis has produced a rupture in the modus operandi of the state in question and in its relationship with its citizenry. The main axis of this rupture is the systemic challenge and reconfiguration of the category 'public' – which of course includes public spaces.

For all these reasons, this research has as its main research subjects the newly emerging public socialities in reference to public urban spaces. The idea of studying selected public urban spaces in the capital city of the country most severely affected by the crisis appears as an ideal way in which to study the array of challenges to our conceptualisations of what comprises the public, (whether of the 'public good', 'public provision', 'public interest' and so forth) as a consequence of the financial crisis.

In addition to this website which will be updated on a weekly basis, the aim of the research project is to publish a book and a documentary film.

From Ross Domoney and Antonis Vradis, a video short Metronome

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