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Fairville issues at the 2nd Conference on Participatory Design 2023 in Athens

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

The project "participatory LAB: Laboratory of Spatial, Urban and Environmental Participatory Planning for Climate Change Adaptation" is part of a broader initiative of COMMONSPACE, that aims to create and continuously expand an active interdisciplinary community that studies, documents, learns, disseminates, and applies participatory design and co-production methodologies, tools and processes. For this purpose, the participatory LAB has established a biennial Conference that serves as the meeting point for this community.

Presently, with the aim to address urban socio-ecological inequalities, the Participatory LAB chooses to set a geographical focus on the “backyards” of the contemporary cities and to direct its practice towards the neglected western areas of Athens and Attika Region. The 2nd Conference, held on October 2023, made a first step in this direction, by highlighting the unequal social and environmental conditions of western Athens and introducing the Fairville Project to the participatory LAB community.

Closing Plenary Session 'Socio-spatial Justice and the city in a time of crisis'

The 2nd Conference on Participatory Design in Athens

At Plyfa/ Sketch by Sylvain Adam

The 2nd Scientific Conference on Participatory Design: “Transforming the City: Public Space and Environment, Inequalities and Democracy”, organised by the Participatory LAB and COMMONSPACE, took place on 20-22 October 2023 at Plyfa Space in Athens. The conference brought together almost 500 in person-participants, hundreds more online views and nearly 170 local and international speakers at 30 plenary sessions, panels, and workshops. Convened with the aim to consolidate an active network around participatory design in Greece and beyond, indeed, this three-day gathering managed to become the ground for a series of open, inclusive, and engaging discussions around participation, urban space, and the environment.

While maintaining a core emphasis on participatory planning and citizen engagement, the conference's focal point was situated in the contemporary city, with the aim to understand, identify, map, and showcase urban transformations, inequalities, and contradictions. By highlighting research explorations, experiments and practical applications centred around policy co-production and participatory planning and design, the debate was ultimately directed towards social and environmental justice.

This post focuses on the moments of this gathering – sessions, discussions, and satellite events – that share similar thematic concerns with the Fairville project. The overall orientation of the Conference and especially the axis “Socio-spatial inequalities and Spatial Justice” were enriched by Fairville’s approach, while at the same time, they can serve as a source of inspiration and information for the Fairville project.

Friday, 20th October: Documentary Film Screening and Discussion

Athenian material by Laure Vermeersch/ Sketch by Sylvain Adam

On Friday 20 October the documentary film Athenian Material” by the French director Laure Vermeersch was screened and discussed, as part of the final workshop of the eLEONAS ppWebGIS project. The film brings us to another world, unveiling a hidden view of Athens. It dives into the bowels of the city, following the route and disposition of tons of Athenian garbage to the west side of the capital, where West Attica Fairville Lab is located.

After five years of intense field work, the director gains the trust of four people and captures their emotions, their struggles, and their anger: Thomas, an environmental activist, Kadir, a rag picker, Athanasia, a gypsy scrap metal worker and Yannis, a dumpster driver. In this way, the film reveals the severe environmental degradation and the precarious living conditions in Western Athens, both in terms of public health and economic survival. Ultimately, it shows how this area with Roma shack 'villages', landfills, toxic fields of endlessly burning matter, scavenger bazaars and garbage vehicles becomes a terrain of socio-ecological, political, and economic confrontation.

In the discussion with the director that followed the screening, Laure Vermeersch shared her goal through this project: “to give a voice to unseen people, the people who makes Athens in the backyard of the city, in the sacrificed valley”.

Link: Documentary Trailer:

Saturday, 21st October: Focus on Environment, Climate Change and Environmental Justice

Participants of the session “Toward inclusive spaces”/ Sketch by Sylvain Adam

The Plenary Session “Landscape Democracy in urban Planning: A challenge in the climate crises era”, moderated by Eleni Mougiakou and Maria Sitzoglou, included interventions about climate-related challenges of contemporary cities (Costas Cartalis, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, EU Scientific Committee on Climate Change), the right to environmental information and legislative proposals centered around citizens’ participation in environmental decisions (Anna Vafiadou, WWF Greece), environmental psychology and landscape democracy, a concept that refers to the human right for supportive, health- and identity- affirming landscapes (Denni Ruggeri, University of Maryland).

In the afternoon, the session “Towards inclusive spaces”, integrated into the Forum ‘Research Dialogues’ and moderated by Sylvain Adam, dealt with housing deprivation in Portugal and Greece during the covid crisis (Louiza Kalousi, Technical University of Crete), gender inequalities and inclusion in the public space (Athina Mela and Eugenia Tousi, University of West Attica, and Myrto Evdou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), actions taken to support LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers in Greece (Sophia Zachariadi, Spyros Koulocheris, Eleni Hadjigeorgiou, Emantes), sea search and rescue missions in the Mediterranean sea with systemic criminalisation and violence towards the migrants and those who try to help them (Sylvain Adam and Jeremy Geeraert, CrimScapes European project).

Sunday, 22nd October: Focus on Socio-spatial Inequalities and Spatial Justice

Alessio Koliulis and Ahmed Zaazaa/ Sketch by Sylvain Adam

Apart from the West Attica Fairville Lab team, two other members of Fairville team took part in the Conference: Alessio Koliulis, urbanist at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit UCL (London) and Ahmed Zaazaa, researcher, urban planner and co-founder of ‘10 Tooba (Egypt).

Within the Panel Session “Mapping Spatial and Social Inequalities of our Cities” moderated by Giorgos Velegrakis, Alessio’s presentation started with a brief overview of the Fairville Project, stressing co-production and spatial-based solutions to address urban inequalities and epistemic justice. Alessio then presented his research project on “Night workers” in London, that questions the relevant municipal strategies and proposes the creation of a centre for night workers, informed by their desires and needs.

Ahmed Zaazaa participated in the Panel session “Urban Governance, Spatial Development and Citizen Participation” moderated by Loukas Triantis. He gave an overview of the uneven geographical development of the greater Cairo urban area, emphasizing the neoliberal logic behind the real estate boom and large-scale interventions. According to Ahmed “the entire city stage is subjected to radical changes, which inevitably brings segregation in the city fabric, marginalisation and deprivation of the disempowered majority. Hence, documenting such changes is inevitable to help shaping new understandings and build new familiarity to the city.”

Monday, 23rd October: Meeting of Fairville partners at commonspace office in Athens

Fairville meeting at commonspace’s office

After the closing of the Conference, members of the Fairville Project that were present exchanged ideas, shared their visions and discussed about the progress of the Fairville Labs during an informal meeting at the office of commonspace.

The conversation focused first on the Fairville Lab in Egypt: Ahmed Zaazaa presented the solid waste management challenges and related issues faced in the Region of Dashour. Afterwards the West Attica Fairville Lab team reported on their recent field visit to West Attica, the problems and different types of inequalities encountered. They shared the idea for the next steps of the project including an open call to researchers working in and for West Attica, mobilize the community of participatory LAB for the inequalities in West Attica and set the basis for the creation of a participatory Atlas for the “backyards of Athens” – a tool for mapping and addressing socio-spatial inequalities.

West Attica Fairville Lab and commonspace (SA+AK)


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