The self-managed Parko Navarinou came to be on 7 March 2009 when hundreds of people living in Exarchia and in other neighbourhoods occupied a former parking lot owned by the TCG (Technical Chamber of Greece), and turned it into a green space and a space for playing games and meeting up. Since then, the Park has encompassed multiple functions: a vegetable garden, a children’s playground and a place for movie screenings, discussions and other events.
The Park was and remains the outcome of decisions made by an open assembly which comprises residents from the neighbourhood and other parts of Athens. Since inception it has been based on the collective work and contribution of those participating. It has kept clear from governmental, municipal and private organisations, and its conditions of operation are collectively configured by the participants. As an endeavour, it follows on from the wider dynamic that social self-management gained in Greece during the uprising of December 2008.
During this uprising, many people took it to the streets not only to protest against the murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, but also to seek ways to communicate, and to comprehend and give answers to all that was happening. New group initiatives and self-managed structures emerged, and a plethora of undertakings were realised: soup kitchens, political squats, recovery of public spaces (Park at Kiprou and Patision streets) etc.
The Park articulates clearly the need to retake control over our lives and everyday, as well as our space and time, and to do so in anti-commercial, anti-hierarchical and unmediated terms. Against the monopolised ownership of space, the Park counterposes the collective and horizontal structuring of the city and the right to the commons, and satisfies a specific social need: the existence of open public spaces for gathering and recreation. In a metropolis that has been literally pillaged by urban “development” and all kinds of profit-driven enterprises, the Park is actualised based on direct democratic decision-making and collective effort, in contrast to the mentality of assigning responsibilities and tasks over to “experts” and “agents”.
Against all odds, the Parko Navarinou has already a decade of life behind it. Today however, we are called to operate in a completely different environment. Ten years after the creation of the Park, the neighbourhood of Exarchia finds itself at the brim of decay, running the risk of becoming a ghetto. Such conditions breed practices of authoritarian violence of those perceived to be stronger against those deemed to be weaker, and give rise to phenomena of social cannibalism. Anti-social, criminal behaviours that used to be unthinkable (shootings, the bullying of residents, constant break-ins to shops, assaults against people identifying as gay and trans, lynchings of inconceivable brutality) have now become part of our everyday lives. In all the streets of Exarchia without exception, the buying and selling of illegal substances thrives, attracting its clientele from across Attica, yielding tremendous profit and enabling the narco-mafias to claim complete control over public space. At the same time, more and more residents are forced to leave their homes which are immediately transformed into short-term lettings offered up to “first-world” tourists who seek the exploits of this peculiar “urban experience” of Exarchia.
Despite this bleak reality, and thanks to the determination and commitment of those involved, the Park has managed to remain a space in common use that is highly regarded by residents and collectives, and gives them hope.
What is more, something great is happening here the past year. The existing children’s playground, which currently occupies only a small part of the park, has become the only playground in Exarchia. After years of hard work making, organising and running it, and given the sad fact that the rest of the neighbourhood’s playgrounds have been destroyed or abandoned, the Park’s playground is now regarded as primary outlet for the commanding social need of children, mums and dads to have access to a welcoming common space.
There is, however, something greater. The neighbourhood’s parents are organising themselves and assume responsibilities for running and maintaining the playground. A wider public becomes aware and involved, makes sure that the place is kept clean and well-lit, constructs and repairs toys, and coordinates (children’s) events. The Children’s Playground of Parko Navarinou has now become an exemplar of social self-management and a model for urban spatial planning in the area.
Beyond every expectation and scepticism, the Park successfully showcases new forms of communication and socialisation, incorporates people from the neighbourhood and gives tangible answers to real social needs.
This extraordinary momentum and the positive impact on Exarchia inspire us to transform the Park into a Big Playground. Its uses will not exclude anyone. It will remain open to parents, grandparents and children from toddlers to teenagers, while at the same time we will expand the Park’s multiple functions for its common use by the neighbourhood and beyond. As a place to play and to hold events and concerts, as a site where one can grow plants, read, play sports and meet up, or simply as a welcoming green space, the Big Playground will remain open to every use that doesn’t exclude other uses.
This initiative has already been embraced by many people in Exarchia, and not only here. It is, however, a new challenge for all of us. We live in a period of quashed social mobilisation, overall disappointment, resignation and social degradation. We are here today after immense efforts and constant struggle. If there is one thing that motivates us to move forward, it is the impact of our undertaking 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.
Self-managed Parko Navarinou
YouTube channel: Parko Navarinou