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Navarinou Park

Created on 03-10-2023 | Updated on 03-10-2023

Navarinou Park is a grassroots initiative set in motion by residents in the Exarchia neighbourhood of Athens. In March 2009, they took over an abandoned plot, which had formerly been used as a parking lot, and transformed it into a communal green space for play and recreational purposes, serving as a reference point for the residents. The management of the park follows a model of social self-governance, non-profit and non-property orientation, where the assembly serves as the primary decision-making instrument.

The park exemplifies an urban commons and a space of commoning. It is a space created and governed by the community of people who came together based on values of solidarity and openness, promoting the production of social capital. Going beyond the theoretical conceptualisations of urban commons, it offers a practical and self-sustainable mechanism for managing urban spaces through collective action. Its objective is to preserve the urban asset while fomenting participation, solidarity and enhancing the quality of life. Its long and turbulent history demonstrates the importance commitment and adaptability play in sustaining urban commons initiatives over time.

Initiating entity
Exarcheia Residents Initiative

Bottom-up transformation of an empty plot into a self-managed community park

Educational/participatory methods
Occupation of public space; collective action; network development; activism; public campaigns; co-construction; co-creation; co-governance; commoning

bottom-up reclaim of the city

Exarcheia neighbourhood, Athens



Exarcheia Residents Initiative, activist groups, local residents

Object of study
Live Project



The neighbourhood of Exarcheia, where the park is located, is one of the most – if not the most– politically active areas in Athens and is traditionally home to intellectuals and artists. Since the 1970s, it has been in the centre of social movements, serving as a breeding ground for leftist, anarchist and antifascist grassroots and alternative cultural practices (Chatzidakis, 2013). Given its location in the centre of Athens, the neighbourhood is lacking green and open spaces.

The site of the park has a long history of negotiations regarding ownership and use, dating back to the 1970s. During that time, the Technical Chamber of Greece (TEE) purchased the 65-year-old medical clinic with the purpose of demolishing it and constructing its central offices. Although the building was eventually demolished in the 1980s, TEE never constructed its offices. In the 1990s, the site was offered as part of an exchange between the TEE and the Municipality of Athens for the development of a green space, but this agreement did not materialise. Instead, the TEE leased the plot for private use, and turned it into an open-air parking space (Frezouli, 2016).

The termination of the lease in 2008 coincided with a major social movement triggered by the assassination of a 15-year-old boy, Alexis Grigoropoulos, at the hands of the police. This tragic incident took place in December of the same year, just a few streets away from the  site and led to uprisings in many Greek cities and neighbourhoods as citizens demanded the right to life, freedom, and the city through protests and illegal occupations. In response to the rumours about the site’s future construction, the Exarcheia Residents’ Initiative, in collaboration with many grassroots movements, used digital means to issue a collective call for action to reclaim the plot as an open green space. On 7th March 2009, tens of people from the neighbourhood and around Athens occupied the plot and created the 'Self-managed Navarinou and Zoodochou Pigis Park' (Frezouli, 2016; pablodesoto, 2010)

The park as an urban commons urban commons resource

The operation and development of the park, in terms of its uses and infrastructure, is collectively shaped by the appropriating community of commoners, consisting of activists and local residents, without any contributions from the state, municipal or private organisations. Hence the activities and interventions within the park are evolving with the joint efforts and time, work, skills and financial resources of the commoners.

In this regard, the transformation of the space from a parking lot into its present form has followed a dynamic process, that keeps adapting to the changing resources, needs and challenges created by the social and urban circumstances. The initial intervention involved replacing the concrete ground with soil and planting flowers and trees donated by the community. Subsequently, a small playground and seating areas were constructed, forming an open amphitheatre (Parko Navarinou Initative, 2018b).  This infrastructure served as a base for organising public events such as cultural activities, public discussions, live concerts, film projections, and children’s activities. At a later stage, educational workshops on agriculture were also introduced (Frezouli, 2016). Many of the activities brought about spatial transformations within the park, including the creation of community gardens or sculptures, murals and installations.

In its most recent phase, the park has been transformed into a “big playground” for all the residents housing a variety of greenery, such as the urban gardens, as well as seating and gathering urban furniture, including benches and tables. The park now features several playground equipment suitable for both children and adults, such as swings, playing structures, a basketball court, and a ping pong table. Additionally, safety has been enhanced by improving the lighting and adding a fence (Parko Navarinou Initative, 2018a).

Commoners and commoning

To thrive as a bottom-up initiative, the operation and governance of the park are based on several forms of mobilisation that extend beyond the initial public space occupation. Among the various forms of commoning undertaken, activism, collective action, network creation and co-governance have been vital for Navarinou Park. These social processes have been supported by other participatory or community-based practices, such as public campaigns, co-construction and co-creation activities (Frezouli, 2016).

Since its beginning, the initiative has established an open assembly as the main instrument for decision-making on  operational and infrastructural matters related to the park. This ensures that the park remains a shared resource, fostering a sense of belonging and strong bonds among the commoners. The assembly sets the rules and practises that constitute the institutional arrangements of the park, following a governance model based on horizontal democratic processes driven by the principles of self-management, anti-hierarchy and anti-commodification. The assembly is open to any individual or group that wishes to participate. However, throughout the park’s lifetime, only a small core of people remains permanently committed to the initiative. This groups is cohesive in terms of social incentives, activist ideals, and social capital, which reduces conflicts during decision-making processes (Arvanitidis & Papagiannitsis, 2020).

However, beyond addressing issues such as maintenance, organisation of events and infrastructure interventions, the assembly has been confronted with several challenges of both internal and external character, necessitating adaptability and rule-setting. One key challenge is the continuous commitment required for attending meetings and carrying out the daily tasks, which relies entirely on voluntary engagement. The gradual decrease in engagement, reaching its peak in early 2018 and even threatening the park’s survival, prompted the core team to seek new forms of communication and involvement to attract more residents to use and engage with the space. (Arvanitidis & Papagiannitsis, 2020). The idea that emerged focused on addressing the lack of play-areas in the neighbourhood by transforming  the park into a large playground that would appeal to families, parents, children and the elderly. This vision was realised through a successful crowdfunding campaign (Parko Navarinou Initative, 2018a) that used the moto “play, breath, discuss, blossom, reclaim, live” to convey the key functions of the park.

Another significant challenge, especially during the first years of the initiative, was external delinquent behaviour, including vandalism, drug trafficking, and problems with the police (Avdikos, 2011). After several negotiations, the assembly decided to install a fence around the park to improve the monitoring and maintenance of the space while still keeping it open to everyone during operational hours and activities.

Impact & Significance

Navarinou Park is considered to be a successful example of the bottom-up transformation of an urban void into an urban commons among scholarly discourses (Arvanitidis & Papagiannitsis, 2020; Daskalaki, 2018; Frezouli, 2016; pablodesoto, 2010). It not only provides environmental benefits delivered through high quality green spaces, along with a variety of social and cultural activities for the residents of Exarcheia but, most significantly, it has "motivated and empowered residents, offering a great sense of pride and providing incentives for enhancing social capital and social inclusion, community resilience, collective learning and action"(Daskalaki, 2018, p. 162). The park demonstrates a successful example of urban commons in continuous growth, where social capital and solidarity are the motivating goals that drive both collective management and the ability to overcome challenges over time:

“If there is one thing that motivates us to move forward, it is the impact of our endeavour not only in theory but in practice: in the constructive transformation of behaviours, awarenesses, practices and everyday lives. It is up to us to seize the new opportunities that open up before us. If we ourselves do not struggle to create the utopias we imagine, they will never exist”. (Parko Navarinou Initative, 2018a)

Alignment with project research areas

Navarinou Park is aligned with RE-DWELL’s research area of Community Participation, specifically community planning, as it showcases an example of community organisation around a space to produce social capital. Furthermore, by using methods such as public space co-design and co-construction, as well as the creation and maintenance of  community gardens,  it also touches upon the area of Design, Planning and Building.

This is an example of a bottom-up initiative that is based on public space occupation which pushes legal boundaries. Consequently, the relationship with the state and formalised processes can be seen as one of tolerance as opposed to confrontational. Therefore, potential alignment with the RE-DWELL’s area of Policy and Financing would be irrelevant, although this case presents an alternative example of co-governance, engaging with the topic of vulnerable groups.

Alignment with SDGs

Based on the public profile of Navarinou Park, there is no deliberate relation to the SDG framework, especially as the values that form the objectives and operations of the park preceded the establishment of SDGs. However, upon examining the history and objectives of the park, links can be drawn with an interpretation of the SDGs that focus on a localised, neighbourhood level, rather than a macroeconomic, policy driven scale.

Accordingly, this case is an example of a bottom-up community initiative that works towards the SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities, by providing a self-sustainable and inclusive social mechanism organised around urban space. Furthermore, it contributes to SDG 13 Climate Action as the provision of green spaces in the dense urban fabric has been the fundamental motive behind the park’s creation. Finally, the formation of a new type of institution of urban commons for the regeneration and governance of the park, based on solidarity, collaboration and network creation, is associated with SDG 16. Peace, justice and strong institutions and  SDG 17. Partnerships for the goals.

In an indirect manner, the park’s programs and activities can be correlated to SDG: 2. No hunger, SDG3. Good health and well-being, and SDG 4. Quality Education, through the integration of mutual learning courses on sustainable urban agriculture.


Arvanitidis, P. A., & Papagiannitsis, G. (2020). Urban open spaces as a commons: The credibility thesis and common property in a self-governed park of Athens, Greece. Cities, 97(February 2019), 102480.

Avdikos, V. (2011). The political closeness of open public space ; reflections from ParkoNavarinou in Athens. International Critical Geography Conference, December.

Chatzidakis, A. (2013). Commodity fights in Post-2008 Athens: Zapatistas coffee, Kropotkinian drinks and Fascist rice. Ephemera, 13(2), 459–468.

Daskalaki, M. (2018). Alternative organizing in times of crisis: Resistance assemblages and socio-spatial solidarity. European Urban and Regional Studies, 25(2), 155–170.

De Soto, P. (2010, December 8). Navarinou Park. In Mapping the Commons.

Frezouli, E. (2016). Self-organized Park Navarinou and Zoodochou Pigis str., Greece. Environmental Justice Atlas.

Parko Navarinou Initiative. (2018a). Support Parkonavarinou. FireFund.

Parko Navarinou Initiative. (2018b). Η ιστορία του πάρκου Ναυαρίνου - The story of Parko Navarinou. Youtube.

Related vocabulary


Community Empowerment

Participatory Approaches


Social Sustainability

Urban Commons

Area: Community participation

In a broader sense, co-creation means the joint effort of bringing something new to fruition through acts of collective creativity (Sanders & Stappers, 2008) which can be manifested in both tangible (making something together) or intangible (learning something together) outcomes (Puerari et al., 2018). Recently, the concepts of co-creation or co- production have been applied to describe the processes of participation in urban planning and design. Both terms place particular emphasis on the partnerships formed between citizens and the public sector, in which a high level of citizen involvement is pivotal. Participation has been defined through its different levels of citizen involvement, ranging from non-participation to greater degrees of citizen control (Arnstein, 1969) indicating the different levels of influence a participant can have on a participatory process. From the perspective of urban planning, citizen participation is beginning to be described as co-creation when citizens’ roles become more prominent, presenting aspects of self-organisation, increased commitment and a sense of ownership of the process (Puerari et al., 2018). Recent research is exploring new methods of urban planning in which citizens, the municipality and private organisations co-create new planning rules (Bisschops & Beunen, 2019). However, co-creation along with co-production and participation, often used interchangeably, have become popular catchphrases and are considered as processes which are of virtue in themselves. Furthermore, while there is substantial research on these processes, the research conducted on the outcomes of enhanced participation remains rather limited (Voorberg et al., 2015). This highlights the ambiguity in terms of interpretation; is co-creation a methodology, a set of tools to enhance and drive a process, or a goal in itself? (Puerari et al., 2018). There have often been cases where participation, co-creation and co-production have been used decoratively, as a form of justification and validation of decisions already made (Armeni, 2016). In the provision of public spaces, co-creation/co-production may specifically involve housing (Brandsen & Helderman, 2012; Chatterton, 2016) and placemaking: “placemaking in public space implies engaging in the practice of urban planning and design beyond an expert culture. Such collaboration can be described as co-creation.” (Eggertsen Teder, 2019, p.290). As in participation, co-creation requires the sharing of decision-making powers, the creation of  joint knowledge and the assignation of abilities between communities, while urban professionals and local authorities should draw attention to the active involvement of community members. Furthermore, co-creation does not take place in a vacuum, but always occurs within socio- spatial contexts. This points to the objective of co-creation as a tool to influence locally relevant policy through innovation that is “place-based”. To conclude, co-creation can be perceived as a process that is both transdisciplinary in its application, and as a tool for achieving transdisciplinarity on a broader scale through a systematic integration in existing standard practices in urban planning, housing design and architecture. Despite the persisting ambiguity in its definition, co-creation processes can provide more inclusive platforms for revisiting and informing formal and informal knowledge on sustainable and affordable housing.

Created on 16-02-2022

Author: E.Roussou (ESR9), A.Panagidis (ESR8)


Area: Community participation

Community empowerment appears in the literature of participatory action research (Minkler, 2004), participatory planning (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018), and community development (Luttrell et al., 2009) as a key element of participatory practices, understanding it as a process that enables communities to take control of their lives and their environments (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Many argue that community participation becomes meaningless if it does not lead to, or pass through community empowerment. As the term is being used in diverse and ubiquitous ways, it runs the risk of ending up as an empty definition and a catch-all phrase (McLaughlin, 2015). It is therefore important to specify the perspective through which we will view the term and clarify the nuances.  Since its origins, empowerment has been used in two different ways. Firstly, top-down as the power that had been ‘granted’ by a higher authority, such as the state or a religious institution, and secondly, bottom-up, as a process by which groups or individuals come to develop the capacity to act and acquire power. Examples of the latter can be found in social groups such as feminists working in nongovernmental organizations throughout the global south in the 1970s, who found a way to address social issues and inequalities that enabled social transformation based on women’s self-organization (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). The term was gradually appropriated by welfare, neoliberal, and social-neoliberal agendas whose priority was individual agency and choice. In neoliberal rationality, empowerment is related to efficiency, economic growth, business productivity, and individual rational choice to maximize profit in a competitive market economy. In social liberalism agendas, empowerment is understood as ‘effective agency’, where ‘agency’ is not an inherent attribute, but something that needs to be constructed through ‘consciousness-raising’ (McLaughlin, 2016). A broader definition sees empowerment as a social action process through which individuals, communities, and organizations take control of their lives in the context of changing the social and political environment to improve equity and quality of life (Rappaport, 2008; Zimmerman, 2000). Rowlands (1997), refers to four types of empowerment: power over, as the ability to influence and coerce; power to, to organize and change existing hierarchies; power with, as the power from the collective action and power within, as the power from the individual consciousness. Using this classification, Biewener & Bacqué (2015), adopting a feminist approach, understand empowerment as a multilevel construct with three interrelated dimensions: 1) an internal, psychological one, where ‘power within’ and ‘power to’ are developed, 2) an organizational, where ‘power with’ and ‘power over’ are strengthened and 3) a social or political level, where institutional and structural change is made possible through collective action. Thus, community empowerment links the individual level, which involves self-determination, growth of individual awareness, and self-esteem, to the collective level, relating critical consciousness and capacity building with the structural level, where collective engagement and transformative social action take place. This view of empowerment, which considers its goals and processes, has a social dimension that is lacking in other approaches that prioritize individual empowerment. Aside from the feminist movements, the philosophy and practices of community empowerment have been greatly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and an advocate on critical pedagogy. Freire proposed a dialogic problem-solving process based on equality and mutual respect between students and teachers; that engaged them in a process of iterative listening-discussing-acting. Through structured dialogue, group participants shared their experiences, discussed common problems, and looked for root causes and the connections among “problems behind the problems as symptoms” (Freire, 1970). The term conscientization, that Freire proposed, refers to the consciousness that arises through the involvement of people in the social analysis of conditions and their role in changing them. This awareness enables groups to be reflexive and open spaces, to enact change or to understand those limited situations that may deter change (Barndt, 1989). Empowerment can be understood as both a process and an outcome (Jo & Nabatchi, 2018). As a process, it refers to “the development and implementation of mechanisms to enable individuals or groups to gain control, develop skills and test knowledge”(Harrison & Waite, 2015) and it entails the creation of new subjects who have developed a critical consciousness and the formation of groups with a ‘collective agency’ ‚ or ‘social collective identity’ (Biewener & Bacqué, 2015). Empowerment as an outcome refers to “an affective state in which the individual or group feels that they have increased control, greater understanding and are involved and active” (Harrison & Waite, 2015). This can lead to a transformation of the social conditions by challenging the structures and institutionalized forms that reproduce inequalities. The values and the significance of community empowerment can be further applied in the participatory and community-based approaches of the housing sector. Examples of such approaches in the housing provision are the housing cooperatives, and self-developed and self-managed housing groups. Housing cooperatives aim at promoting co-creation to engage future residents, professionals, and non-profit organizations in all the stages of a housing project: problem-framing, designing, developing, cohabiting, managing, and maintaining. Such organisational models stress the importance and pave the way for community empowerment by uniting individuals with similar interests and ideals, enabling them to have housing that responds to their needs, preferences, and values. The participation of the residents aims to strengthen their sense of ownership of the process, the democratic decision-making and management, and the social collective identity, making community empowerment an integral characteristic of cooperative housing initiatives. With this social perspective, residents can gain individual and collective benefits while contributing to fairer and more sustainable urban development on a larger scale (Viskovic Rojs et al., 2020).

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: Z.Tzika (ESR10)


Area: Community participation

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, participation is “the act of taking part in an activity or event”. Likewise, it can also mean “the fact of sharing or the act of receiving or having a part of something.” It derives from old French participacion which in turn comes from late Latin participationem, which means “partaking” (Harper, 2000).  References to participation can be found in many fields, including social sciences, economics, politics, and culture. It is often related to the idea of citizenship and its different representations in society. Hence, it could be explained as an umbrella concept, in which several others can be encompassed, including methodologies, philosophical discourses, and tools. Despite the complexity in providing a holistic definition, the intrinsic relation between participation and power is widely recognised. Its ultimate objective is to empower those involved in the process (Nikkhah & Redzuan, 2009). An early application of participatory approaches was the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) which exerted a significant influence in developing new discourses and practices of urban settings (Chambers, 1994; Friedmann, 1994). In the late 1970s increasing attention was paid to the concept by scholars, and several associated principles and terminologies evolved, such as the participation in design and planning with the Scandinavian approach of cooperative design (Bφdker et al., 1995; Gregory, 2003). Participation in design or participatory design is a process and strategy that entails all stakeholders (e.g. partners, citizens, and end-users) partaking in the design process. It is a democratic process for design based on the assumption that users should be involved in the designs they will go on to use (Bannon & Ehn, 2012; Cipan, 2019; Sanoff, 2000, 2006, 2007). Likewise, participatory planning is an alternative paradigm that emerged in response to the rationalistic and centralized – top-down – approaches. Participatory planning aims to integrate the technical expertise with the preferences and knowledge of community members (e.g., citizens, non-governmental organizations, and social movements) directly and centrally in the planning and development processes, producing outcomes that respond to the community's needs (Lane, 2005). Understanding participation through the roles of participants is a vital concept. The work of Sherry Arnstein’s (1969) Ladder of Citizen Participation has long been the cornerstone to understand participation from the perspective of the redistribution of power between the haves and the have-nots. Her most influential typological categorisation work yet distinguishes eight degrees of participation as seen in Figure 1: manipulation, therapy, placation, consultation, informing, citizen control, delegated power and partnership. Applied to a participatory planning context, this classification refers to the range of influence that participants can have in the decision-making process. In this case, no-participation is defined as designers deciding based upon assumptions of the users’ needs and full-participation refers to users defining the quality criteria themselves (Geddes et al., 2019). A more recent classification framework that also grounds the conceptual approach to the design practice and its complex reality has been developed by Archon Fung (2006) upon three key dimensions: who participates; how participants communicate with one another and make decisions together, and how discussions are linked with policy or public action. This three-dimensional approach which Fung describes as a democracy cube (Figure 2), constitutes a more analytic space where any mechanism of participation can be located. Such frameworks of thinking allow for more creative interpretations of the interrelations between participants, participation tools (including immersive digital tools) and contemporary approaches to policymaking. Aligned with Arnstein’s views when describing the lower rungs of the ladder (i.e., nonparticipation and tokenism), other authors have highlighted the perils of incorporating participatory processes as part of pre-defined agendas, as box-ticking exercises, or for political manipulation. By turning to eye-catching epithets to describe it (Participation: The New Tyranny? by Cooke & Kothari, 2001; or The Nightmare of Participation by Miessen, 2010), these authors attempt to raise awareness on the overuse of the term participation and the possible disempowering effects that can bring upon the participating communities, such as frustration and lack of trust. Examples that must exhort practitioners to reassess their role and focus on eliminating rather than reinforcing inequalities (Cooke & Kothari, 2001).

Created on 17-02-2022

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13), L.Ricaurte (ESR15), M.Alsaeed (ESR5)


Area: Community participation

Placemaking in the urban realm is a holistic approach that foments the collaborative transformation of public spaces into vibrant, inclusive and engaging places. The core objective of placemaking is reflected in David Engwicht’s analogy: “placemaking is like turning a house into a home” (Placemaking.Education, no date), that is, to transform a mere physical location or space into an emotionally resonant and socially connected place. Placemaking encompasses not only the planning and design of spaces but also their sustainable management (Project for Public Spaces, 2016). The placemaking theory has been developed on the principle that urban and architectural projects should prioritize people and their emotions over cars and shopping centres. This idea originated in groundbreaking work of intellectuals from the 1960s, such as Jane Jacobs[1] and William H. Whyte[2]. Building upon their work, the term ‘placemaking’ started being used in the 1970s by architects and planners to describe the process of transforming public spaces into enjoyable destinations. Since then, a number of placemaking organisations, most notably the pioneering Project for Public Spaces (PPS)[3], have played a pivotal role in guiding community leaders toward the value of reinvesting in existing communities instead of pursuing endless urban sprawl. These organisations have raised awareness that this approach is both economically and environmentally more sustainable (Ellery, Ellery and Borkowsky, 2021). Over the last few decades, placemaking has been extensively used to describe various approaches in urban development, ranging from community-driven emancipatory practices, such as reclaiming underused neighbourhood spaces, to top-down strategic plans for neighbourhood revitalisations. Theoretical discussions have attempted to categorize placemaking processes with regards to ignition, goal, scale, budget and involvement, among others (Courage et al., 2021). One widely adopted classification among placemaking scholars is Wyckoff’s (2014) distinction of four types:    Standard Placemaking (or simply placemaking) aims at creating quality places and reviving existing public spaces. This approach is pursued by the public, non-profit, or private sector, employing community participation into a variety of projects and activities. These projects are often incremental, such as street and façade improvements, residential rehabs, which may encompass public spaces and small-scale projects. Tactical Placemaking focuses on creating quality places using a deliberate approach to change, developed in phases that begin with quick, short-term commitments and realistic expectations. Over time, short-term activities and projects achieve gradual transformations in public spaces. Tactical placemaking can be initiated by local development strategies or from bottom-up. It includes activities such as parking space conversions, self-guided historic walks, outdoor music events, and temporary conversion of buildings. Creative Placemaking utilises arts and cultural activities to strategically shape the identity of a neighbourhood, city, or region. The processes include revitalisation of buildings, structures and streetscapes, often improving the local business viability and public safety. Strategic Placemaking is targeted at achieving specific goals, such as raising the economic, social and cultural prosperity of a community in addition to creating quality places. This can be achieved by interventions that attract talented workers in certain locations, such as mixed-use places that are pedestrian-oriented, bike-friendly, as well as supporting recreation, arts and housing options. Naturally, implementing placemaking processes come with their own risks. Similar to other forms of civic participation, placemaking can sometimes become a buzzword for urban renewal programmes, especially when used to drive economic development of an area through spatial upgrade. When the goal is to replace an existing place with one considered an improvement, it is likely that the affected people may experience negative effects, such as direct or indirect displacement. In this regard, as placemaking strategies, aimed at revitalising underutilised spaces into vibrant places, consequently enhancing the location’s attractiveness and value, are often criticised for potentially fuelling gentrification trends rather than alleviating them (Placemaking Europe, 2019).   [1] In her work, epitomised in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jacobs introduced the idea of “eyes on the street” that advocates for citizen ownership on the street. [2] Whyte’s groundbreaking work The social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980), summarises his extensive research on the Street Life Project in New York, in which he recorded the human behaviour in the urban setting, concluding to the essential elements for creating social life in public spaces. (see more at Projects for Public Spaces, William H. Whyte) [3] Organisation led by Fred Kent and consisted of an interdisciplinary team, has been advancing placemaking processes since 1975 originally in the US and recently globally. Developing roadmaps and toolboxes that place community participation at the centre of action they have engaged with more than 35000 communities in 52 countries (About — Project for Public Spaces, no date), while at the same time sharing their placemaking experiences and principles (see Project for Public Spaces Inc., 2015) through networking activities and courses.

Created on 08-11-2023

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)


Area: Community participation

From the three pillars of sustainable development, economic, environmental and social, the latter  involving social equity and the sustainability of communities, has  been especially neglected. Ongoing problems caused by conflicting economic, environmental and social goals with regard to the processes of urbanisation continue. underpinning economic growth that contradict principles of environmental and social justice (Boström, 2012; Cuthill, 2010; Winston, 2009). Research on sustainable development highlights the need for further investigation of social sustainability (Murphy, 2012; Vallance et al., 2011). Social sustainability has been interpreted as an umbrella term encompassing many other related concepts; “social equity and justice, social capital, social cohesion, social exclusion, environmental justice, quality of life, and urban liveability” (Shirazi & Keivani, 2019, p. 4). A vast number of studies have been dedicated to defining social sustainability by developing theoretical frameworks and indicators particularly relevant to urban development and housing discourse (Cuthill, 2010; Dempsey et al., 2011; Murphy, 2012; Woodcraft, 2012). However, with a lack of consensus on the way of utilising these frameworks in a practical way, especially when applied to planning, social sustainability has remained difficult to evaluate or measure. Consequently, planning experts, housing providers and inhabitants alike understand social sustainability as a normative concept, according to established social norms, and less as an opportunity to critically examine existing institutions. Vallance et al (2011) provide three categories to analyse social sustainability, development, bridge and maintenance sustainability: (a) social development improves conditions of poverty and inequity, from the provision of basic needs to the redistribution of power to influence existing development paradigms; (b) the conditions necessary to bridge social with ecological sustainability, overcoming currently disconnected social and ecological concerns; and (c) the social practices, cultural preferences as well as the environments which are maintained over time. Maintenance social sustainability particularly deals with how people interpret what is to be maintained and includes “new housing developments, the layout of streets, open spaces, residential densities, the location of services, an awareness of habitual movements in place, and how they connect with housing cultures, preferences, practices and values, particularly those for low-density, suburban lifestyles” (Vallance et al., 2011, p. 345). Therefore, the notion of maintenance is especially important in defining social sustainability by directly investigating the established institutions, or “sets of norms” that constitute the social practices and rules, that in turn, affect responsibilities for planning urban spaces. A conceptual framework that appears frequently in social sustainability literature is that of Dempsey et al. (2011)⁠ following Bramley et al. (2009), defining social sustainability according to the variables of social equity and sustainability of community and their relationship to urban form, significantly at the local scale of the neighbourhood. In terms of the built environment, social equity (used interchangeably with social justice) is understood as the accessibility and equal opportunities to frequently used services, facilities, decent and affordable housing, and good public transport. In this description of local, as opposed to regional services, proximity and accessibility are important. Equitable access to such local services effectively connects housing to key aspects of everyday life and to the wider urban infrastructures that support it. Sustainability of community is associated with the abilities of society to develop networks of collective organisation and action and is dependent on social interaction. The associated term social capital has also been used extensively to describe social norms and networks that can be witnessed particularly at the community level to facilitate collective action (Woolcock, 2001, p. 70). They might include a diversity of issues such as resident interaction, reciprocity, cooperation and trust expressed by common exchanges between residents, civic engagement, lower crime rates and other positive neighbourhood qualities that are dependent on sharing a commitment to place (Foster, 2006; Putnam, 1995; Temkin & Rohe, 1998). In fact, “the heightened sense of ownership and belonging to a locale” is considered to encourage the development of social relations (Hamiduddin & Adelfio, 2019, p. 188). However, the gap between theoretical discussions about social sustainability and their practical application has continued. For example, the emphasis of social sustainability as a target outcome rather than as a process has been prioritised in technocratic approaches to planning new housing developments and to measuring their success by factors which are tangible and easier to count and audit. Private housing developers that deal with urban regeneration make bold claims to social sustainability yet profound questions are raised regarding the effects of gentrification (Dixon, 2019). Accordingly, the attempted methods of public participation as planning tools for integrating the ‘social’ have been found to be less effective - their potential being undercut due to the reality that decision-making power has remained at the top (Eizenberg & Jabareen, 2017). Therefore, social sustainability is not a fixed concept, it is contingent on the interdependence of the procedural aspects (how to achieve social sustainability) and substantive aspects (what are the outcomes of social sustainability goals) (Boström, 2012). From this point of view, social sustainability reveals its process-oriented nature and the need to establish processes of practicing social sustainability that begin with the participation of citizens in decision-making processes in producing equitable (i.e. socially sustainable) development. As a dimension of sustainable development that is harder to quantify than the economic or environmental aspects, the operationalisation of social sustainability goals into spatial, actionable principles has remained a burgeoning area of research. In such research, methods for enhancing citizen participation are a particularly important concern in order to engage and empower people with “non-expert” knowledge to collaborate with academic researchers.

Created on 03-06-2022

Author: A.Panagidis (ESR8)


Area: Community participation

Urban commons are shared resources in the city that are managed by their users in a collaborative and non-profit-oriented way. The concept is based on the idea that urban resources and services that represent fundamental rights in the city should be accessible to and governed by the urban dwellers, to support the social capital and the sustainability of the urban communities. Hence, their value lies mostly in the social benefit produced during their use and they are therefore different from commodities that follow traditional market principles of profit maximisation and private ownership (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). The concept of urban commons is an extrapolation in the urban context of the notion of commons which historically refers to natural resources available to all and not owned by any individual, such as air, water and land. The commons discourse became significantly popular thanks to the fundamental contribution of Elinor Ostrom (1990) and particularly after she was awarded the Nobel in Economics in 2009. Ostrom presented cases and design principals for the collective management of common resources by those that use and benefit from them, challenging the predominant negative connotations that had peaked with Garret Hardin’s (1968) Tragedy of the Commons where he analysed the impossible sustainability of common pool resources due to individual benefits. During the last fifteen years, a vast body of academic literature on urban commons has been produced, linking the notion to other urban theories, such as the right to the city (Harvey, 2008; Lefebvre, 1996), biopolitics (Angelis & Stavrides, 2009; Hardt & Negri, 2009; Linebaugh, 2008; Parr, 2015; Stavrides, 2015, 2016), peer-to-peer urbanism and sharing economy (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015; Iaione, 2015; Iaione et al., 2019; McLaren & Agyeman, 2015; Shareable, 2018). The notion of the urban commons encompasses resources, people and social practices (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015): Commons resources are urban assets of various types, characteristics and scales (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). Examples of commons resources include physical spaces, such as community gardens, street furniture and playgrounds; intangible elements such as culture and public art; services such as safety; digital spaces, such as internet access. Urban commons literature and practices have attempted to determine several typological categorisations of the urban commons resources, the most notable being that of Hess (2008), who classified them as cultural, knowledge, markets, global, traditional, infrastructure, neighbourhood, medical and health commons. The commoners are the group that uses and manages the urban commons resources. It is a self-defined and organically formed group of individuals whose role is to collectively negotiate the boundaries and the rules of the management of the commons resources (Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). In a neighbourhood setting, for example, the commoners may be individual residents, or community groups, cooperatives, NGOs and local authorities. De Angelis and Stavrides (2010) points out that commoners might include diverse groups or communities that are not necessarily homogenous. Commoning refers to the collaborative participatory process of accessing, negotiating and governing the commons resources. The term was introduced by Peter Linebaugh (2008) and refers to the “social process that creates and reproduces the commons” (Angelis & Stavrides, 2010). Commoning is a form of public involvement for the public good (Lohmann, 2016). Commoning implies a commitment to solidarity and cooperation, to the creation of added value to the community, to democracy and inclusiveness and is connected to a hacking culture(Dellenbaugh-Losse et al., 2015). Hence, commoning practices can include various activities such as co-creation, capacity building and placemaking, support through learning, innovation, performing art, protest, urban gardening and commuting. In contemporary societies in crisis, the urban commons theory is often used as a counter-movement to the commodification of urban life and as a response to complex issues, proving essential for the well-being of marginalised communities and for the provision of affordable and sustainable housing. Urban commons management conveys the re-appropriation of urban values (Borch & Kornberger, 2015) breaking silos of expertise and knowledge by adopting a collaborative approach to defining and solving the problems at stake. The practice of urban commons helps to build values of openness, experimentation, creativity, trust, solidarity and commitment within stakeholder groups.

Created on 14-10-2022

Author: A.Pappa (ESR13)


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