SNF DIALOGUES: The Return to Public Space

ATHENS — The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) DIALOGUES returned for an in person discussion on the evolving role and meaning of public space.

Public dialogue is public space… the privileged material space of the public sphere, and that is where democracy lives,” said Ares Kalandides, Professor of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University, during the 44th SNF DIALOGUES, held on Wednesday, June 30 at the Antonis Tritsis Metropolitan Park Open Theater. After more than a year of discussions held exclusively online, and at a time when being able to coexist in outdoor spaces is more crucial than ever, the SNF DIALOGUES gathered with an in person audience, and addressed the issue of coexistence within public space – in essence, an issue of democracy. The discussion also featured Ersi Filippopoulou, NTUA Architect & Jurist, and Kimon Hadjibiros, Emeritus Professor of Ecology and Environmental Management, NTUA.

Public space demonstrates the collective consciousness of the people,” commented Ersi Filippopoulou, adding, “The quality of a space does not only relate to its materials or design, but also to how much we respect it and consider it an extension of our own private space. There is a contradiction in this, which is probably explained by the way we perceive our public selves.”

Commenting on citizens’ responsibilities and the relationship between public space and the environment, Kimon Hadjibiros stated, “Everything we do impacts the planet, therefore the adaptation of individual behavior, that is how we will behave as citizens, must take into account not only those around us in the park, the neighborhood, or the city, but in the entire planet.” Referring to the pandemic, he stressed, “It is an excellent example of how we are ultimately destroying public space. Public space became the space where the disease was transmitted.

No one ever bothered to ask the users of public space what they need. No dialogue was ever started. Citizens don’t have to decide, but they do need to enter into a process of dialogue,” said Ares Kalandides. In discussing the management of public spaces, he noted, “How this management functions and who undertakes it is of great importance. We have seen that the more diversified the management body is, the more successful it tends to be, because it becomes more inclusive.”

During the discussion, SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos mentioned, “Governments come and go, but they are there to serve.” Adding, “There is a so-called ‘ownership,’ which is about more than property, because it is simultaneously the duty of every citizen, not only to enjoy the space, but also to respect and maintain it in their own way. It’s a way of life.” Referring to the SNFCC as a prime example of public-private partnership, Andreas Dracopoulos said, “There are many problems and if we do not all work together, things will not work out well. For the SNFCC, this was our vision to engage people in the process from the beginning, and I think it is a very good example, not only in terms of the end result, but also in terms of how it was ‘built’ and delivered to the Greek people. A lot of work needs to be done to cultivate a sense of contribution needed to create a park that truly belongs to the people.” Lastly, Andreas Dracopoulos added, “We often say that citizens must respect public space, but it is now clear that public space must also respect citizens. The library at the SNFCC, which is both a research and a lending library—meaning that it is intended as a space for people to visit—was quickly embraced by young people who filled the library in an wonderful way. For me, the Library has not yet lived up to the expectations of the people who came and embraced it.”

A shared space, a public space, is an essential part of modern democratic life,” mentioned Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Social Studies at New York University, via a prerecorded interview screened during the event. Referring to the management of public space by western culture, he commented that, unfortunately, “Too many parts of western society have been exclusive and segregated, and have cut people off from those places,” while in terms of the challenge for both the developing and the developed world he stated, “We live in a diverse society, a multicultural, multiethnic society, that can often be polarized. The challenge for us, I think, is now to try and put the pieces back together and develop some kind of a common vision, a sense of linked fate. And that I think is the challenge of the 21st century.”

Liam Young, Co-Founder of Tomorrows Thoughts Today, mentioned the role of artificial intelligence in the creation of the modern city in an interview he conducted in advance of his participation in the SNF Nostos Conference. “In a way, AI already defines the modern city. It doesn’t look like AI is supposed to look in movies, but it’s there in the form of infrastructure. What I’m interested in doing is thinking about how those systems can start being rolled out in ways that create more equitable, more sustainable and more viable forms of cities than what we currently do.”

The next meeting of the SNF DIALOGUES will take place on Wednesday, August 25, as part of SNF Nostos, and will feature an open discussion on the coexistence of humanity and artificial intelligence. In collaboration with the SNF Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, DIALOGUES will address the moral, philosophical, and social issues that arise from the use of advanced systems of artificial intelligence in our daily lives, and their impact on the future of society and democracy.

Watch the DIALOGUES discussion on “The Return to Public Space: a discussion on coexistence, respect and democracy” at snfdialogues.org

The DIALOGUES are curated and moderated by Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou.

*The opinions expressed by DIALOGUES participants, whether representing officially institutions and organizations or themselves, are solely their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) or iMEdD. Speakers’ remarks are made freely, without prior guidance or intervention from the team.


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