New Collective Space for the contemporary city

The planning challenge of the semi periphery of cities examplified from thessaloniki – the west arc/europan competition 1997
By Prof. Bjorn Roe
Department of Town – Regional Planning NTNU, Norweigian University of Science and Technology, N-7034 Trondheim, Norway
The scope of this paper is, by means of the example of Thessaloniki and the Europan competition “west Arc” to take part in the discourse on urban design theory and practice related to semi periphery of cities. This paper will be limited to our experience and thoughts based on our competition entry (without mention) as well as other theoretical works.
The “West Arc”, is selected area of Thessaloniki where the densely built up city meets some open areas, previously reserved for army purposes, Urban Design as a useful tool, improving the living conditions for the users of the city, should be understood by the authorities as well as the population and it ought to be looked upon as useful by those involved in the production of space. The theoretical foundation may be of less, importance for the outcome and functioning of UD, however, there is a need for theoreticians and practitioners to meet in a dialogue. Hopefully this presentation will make a contribution towards that end.
The purpose of the West Arc/Europan competition is to improve the deficiency (lack of common public spaces etc.) by examining the periphery, not “simply in terms of but as composite urban system incorporating modernisation of the service and traffic networks, rearticulation of open areas so that they come to be suitable places for the life of the metropolis, and the ephermeral events typical of city life.” (D.Rebois, EUROPAN gen.secr.)
The objectives as stated in the competition programme are :
1. “Call for ideas consistent with the search for town planning strategies and architectural statements in the West periphery/outskirts of Thessaloniki.”
EUROPAN is a European association for programmes of new architecture with experience in planning and carrying out competitions for international ideas as well as in organising events and debates related to such competitions. In this competition all competitors should be young (below 45) professionals involved in urban and architectural planning in Europe. The teams could in addition use contributors not subject to the same requirement of age or professional accreditation (like students or old professors).
2. “It aims at developing, on a European scale, idea for quality projects on the theme of contemporary collective areas adapted to the specific context of the modern Greek city.”
3.“The objective of the competition is to help young European professionals involved in town-and architectural planning to develop their ideas and communicate them on the European scene.”
4. “The goal is, through the development of the west periphery of Thessaloniki, to assist the municipalities and their local agencies in finding innovative answers that may help them create an integrated urban environment.
5. In this European process of exchanges of ideas for redefining end upgrading modern cities, how are we to integrate innovative architectural or public area projects into the existing modern city in places that already have an indentity but are undergoing process of social change ?”
Relating West Arc, Thessaloniki to the general debate
Although each city is unique, there are several global phenomena one can relate to the general discussion. The local and highly specific characteristics will be the element making the necessary distinction when coming to the final choice of procedures or “design” solutions.
The semi periphery/outer city/city edge, in between or outside the dense morphology of the traditional city, will be in focus of interest. These are areas with more space available, often in connection with highways or other heavy infrastructure (seafron/harbour, railway etc.). Where there are willingness of investments and buildings activities are attracted. In such area town planning and urban design seems to have lost the grip and where discussion is concentrated (ellin:166-168). West Arc is such part of Thessaloniki, but have several highly unique features related to local conditions, a specific history and the Greek culture.
The criticism towards city development based on functionalistic principles has been going on since the 1950s (Alberts et al 1985, Broadbent 1990, Ellin 1996). The separation of functions into monofunctional areas, the preference of the movement of the automobile, the focus on architectural object in free space, the automobile, the focus on architectural object in free space, the abandonment of the street with its pavements and the mixed land uses has been main elements in the critique.
Town planning according to modernistic developed Master Plans based on zoning, where land use and transport (roads and parking space) were in focus, Morphology and spatial pattern were given less concern, as many Architects lost professional interest as the traditional Architectural object, the individual building, disappeared from the plans were supposed to prepare the ground for decisions on projects and investments based on synoptic, long range estimations. Planning was often quantitatively focused (based on population prognoses and other data) and did not necessarily give good incentments for spatial development. At other instances the plans gave directions for growth and functioned very well according to the prognotisised development, but reactions came from those disagreeing with the ‘modern’ way of city development.
Urban design as a notion developed in the 1960s (Ellin 1996) among else as a response from Architects wanting to get involved in planning, but not master planning. UD is synonyms with Architecture on a larger scale, or Physical Planning where emphasis is on space morphology and three dimensional development. “ The essence of the urban design approach is that in concentrates more and relations between objects, more on linkages, contexts and in between places, than the object themselves (Ellin p.224 from Scott Brown 1990a p.19). In addition to indicating a globalization of dialogue about architecture and planning the new concern with urban design and with urbanism also intimate dissatisfaction with the quality or design theory and the products it was yielding. Ellin p.225)
The responses and critiques took many directions, but the picture is quite blurred. I think one reason is that critique may seem to be directed towards the professional ideals and tools, while they are basically due to disappointment with generally prevailing paradigms, political situation, dominance of market forces etc. We are often find professionals having gone through different ideological stages being trapped meeting their own past. Postmodernism is part of this pattern of reaction to the rationalism of modernism. It is easier to react towards the paradigms of ones profession than to stir up, or try to make any changes in direction of overall development or attempt structural changes ! Thus, a lot of the post-modern discussion have left few traces outside the closed circles of each profession. Some buildings are announcing their protest, but little have influenced city development at large and urban environment. This may be one reason that so little is written about post-modern building, urban design or urbanism but so much on post-modern building design (Ellin 1996).
Two main directions with focus on urban space can be labelled “Progressive” versus “Culturalistic”. (Choay) “New Urbanism” is the most outspoken version of the latter which also could be labelled Neo – Traditional. This is a way of conserving elements from the past, led by professionals like Leon Krier in Europe and supporters like Prince Charles of wales and his Institute of Architecture. In USA, Seaside Florida and Walt Disney’s city “Celebration” represent this nostalgic ways of looking at Architecture pretending to create better and more humane cities by building and restructuring neighbourhoods and larger tracts of cities after the model of the small town of the past. They are moving away from the Metropole to the neighbourhood scale (Ellefsen 1997). I will not pursue this direction, even if there may be valuable spatial elements in some of their projects and details around everyday living environment can make sense in limited infill projects. As a guidance for future city restructuring and city development, this direction has its obvious limitations. The other direction, the “progressive”, maintains that we are transforming the environment as tools for other purposes. The architecture thus becomes an expression of culture that mirrors social changes and this is expressed on all levels of the Architecture, from principles of spatial organisation to expression of “style”. (Ellefsen p.14)
At this point in time, I would advocate the “progressive” way, however being aware of the traps and weaknesses of pure functionalistic, rationalistic planning and design, choosing such a direction one continue the modernism, but with all antennas alert. Urban designers should consider the forces of development and enter into dialogue with those actors who are able to actively change the city or parts of it. As participants they will be able to contribute to the directions of change. Such strategy cannot be based on nostalgia, nor the “machine” metaphor, but will utilise technical progress where it is beneficial. The humans as individuals and collective will be in focus, however within ecological sound or sustainable environments. Metropolis will have to be taken as granted, but the seemingly haphazard way it has grown so far is not acceptable. Due to the strong forces of development and unforeseen future. Only certain main elements of infrastructure and some points is space can be fixed, such as important locations for central functions or natural environments that will have to be protected and incorporated in the future settlement. There seems to be a kind of consensus that the fragmented city will continue. We will have to be concerned about each fragment or part and the way the city is tied together and connected, how the city is read and perceived by its users, how the collective functions are maintained and how easy and pleasant it is for each group to utilise and sense their settlements.
How can this be done so that energy spending will be reduced as well as population ? It is not so much a question of what the future city will look like as how it will come into being and how this can be controlled.
Thessolaniki, the west arc and the Europan competition
Thessaloniki, Cultural, Capital of Europe in 1997, has in long period since its foundation in 315 BC played a major role in the region. It was Capital of the Makedonian State and the later Roman province of Makedonian (148 BC) and after the founding of Konstantinopel in 330 AD, the join “Queen City” of the Byzantine Empire. In this era it was the second largest city of Europe with more than one million inhabitants. At the crosspoint of many nations it attracted people from many cultures, Greeks, Turks, Slavs, Jews Armenians etc. In early fifteenth century it was occupied by the Turks and became a part of the Ottoman Empire and was not liberated until 1912. (Compet. Programme p.29) At that time the largest group were the Jews, the second the Muslims and the third were the Greek Orthodox.
Today the population is 850-900 thousands. The Jewish community was almost extinguished in death camps during the Second World War. People of Turkish origin were greatly reduced after the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey in 1923.
However, still Thessaloniki is very multi ethnic with a heterogeneous population. Political refugees (Greeks) returning from the countries of Eastern Europe as well as numerous economic migrants from Albania and other Balkan Countries (CP. P41.). Many of these have been settling in the western part of the city.

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