Thessaloniki Differently an urban experiment in development. A small story for a great action.
The idea and the need for Thessaloniki Differently resulted from the initiative of the oldest free press magazine in Greece, which decided to organize a different celebration of its 20th birthday. Parallaxi has been circulated in printed form in Thessaloniki since 1989 and online, https://parallaximag.gr/, since 2011. With specialized article writing by experts and pioneer, on a national level, initiatives such as the Greatest Kitsch Exhibition at the Centre for Contemporary Art and the Cinema on the Road in five cities in the region, has made a large circle of intervention in the public affairs of the city and launched radical cultural and urban changes in the everyday life of the city, in order to choose, as its next step, actions with emphasis on the urban landscape and the environment.
It all began in February 2010 with the preparation of a three-day period with actions and interventions of cultural, architectural and environmental nature, which intended to transform a large part of the city center into a nursery of ideas and proposals from the greatest synergy of creative forces ever. Its implementation was taken over by a group of young people from different areas and was accomplished due to the valuable contribution of hundreds of volunteers.
The first weekend of June 2010 an urban experiment of 48 hours with more than 64 actions, 120 entities and groups, 1000 participants and 250 volunteers disrupted the everyday life of the city, proposing a radical revision of the concept of public space. The unprecedented audience response, as well as the spectators who exceeded 30,000, sparked the first thought for the continuation of the experiment. So, the action of urban activism “Thessaloniki Differently” was born by extending the presence of Parallaxi in the city.
From that moment a group of 15 people with different professional backgrounds and experience was set up, which were the creative core of Thessaloniki Differently and with the contribution of hundreds of volunteers organised a series actions actions and proposals for the future of the city, as well as caused the public dialogue about what should happen to Thessaloniki in order to raise the index of its citizens’ quality of life.
The goal of Thessaloniki Differently is to highlight and to propose a different and creative face of a city with glorious past and traumatic stagnation.
The means of achieving this objective is the desire for extroversion but also the step of expression in all groups and their creators who live and act in the city.
The inspiration of the team ,which was enriched in the course of time with the arrival of more people, constituted the general cultural and urban environment of Thessaloniki, the investment in extroversion, in the local social needs, the cultural environment, the social developments and the hidden secrets of the place we live in.
The philosophy of “Thessaloniki Differently” is that the image of the city determines not only the behaviour of its authorities, but also that of its citizens. Only through the participatory process and the successful transition from “I” to “we” the face of the city can change beneficially and efficiently. It is sufficient to allow step in expression for the creative minds and groups, to a direction of collaboration and synergy, with a view to make the future of the city a collective goal. With proposals from its own citizens for the utilization of public space, the environment, culture and socially equitable and sustainable development of the city, with an open and lasting appeal of the principles, without exclusions towards those who can contribute to strengthening and enhancing the initiatives which without doubt can offer a lot to the city.
The main axis of the movement “Thessaloniki Differently” is the management of public space, the culture, the environment, the emergence of the creative forces of the city and social solidarity.
The first urban experiment was repeated having a different target in September 2010, occasioned by the European Mobility Week and in particular the Car-Free Day. On 22nd September 2010 the centre of Thessaloniki reminded for an afternoon something from the dreams of its inhabitants, free from vehicles, pedestrian-friendly, overrun with bikes. A spontaneous celebration of public space with more than 30,000 participants put on the agenda of the city authorities the need for changes in the management of the historic city centre. The thematic pedestrianisation of the four main roads was a proposal of alternative utilization of the roads which paralyze because of the daily traffic jam.
The actions were continued during the winter of 2011 with evening activities in museum areas, under the general heading ‘A Night at the Museum”. Four different nights at the State Museum of Contemporary Art, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, the Archaeological Museum and the Science Centre and Technology Museum NOESIS were an appeal to the public of the city to see the museums under special circumstances and accompanied by a plethora of parallel actions each time. For four months the programme was in progress attracting over 4,000 visitors in museums who are, besides, tested by the economic situation of the era.
On Christmas Eve 2010, Parallaxi and the team of Thessaloniki Differently in cooperation with the biggest university in the city, AUTH, organized in the students’ union an open meal for the deprived and homeless citizens .
At the beginning of 2011 in response to their social action and with full awareness of the situation in the city, the volunteers of “Thessaloniki Differently” in cooperation with “Arsis” held their first solidarity “night patrol” for the homeless. It was the first attempt to count those who live on the street and help them with food, medicine, blankets and other necessary, for their survival, goods. The data obtained by this action, which involved more than 70 volunteers of every age, were sent for use to the municipality of Thessaloniki, which in turn then took steps by opening municipal buildings and gyms during the cold winter nights as hospitality areas.
In April 2011 Thessaloniki hosted for three days one of the leading urban planners worldwide. David Sim, the director of the office of Gehl Architects visited the city, accepting the invitation of Parallaxi for a 3-days lab with students of the School of Architecture of AUTH , for an open presentation to the public of the city and for the local authorities. The unprecedented turnout of 700 citizens who rushed to follow the successful examples of the group of Gehl Architects in dozens of cities abroad showed in practice the thirst of the people for changes in the everyday life of Thessaloniki.
The environment has not been missed by the actions of “Thessaloniki Differently”. At the beginning of April 2011 in cooperation with the Pavlos Melas Municipality the extensive afforestation in the Efkarpia region made the neighborhood of subsidized housing green, while the parallel actions made the students of local schools more aware of environmental issues.
In May 2011 was the turn of the book to be at the forefront. In cooperation with the National Book Centre of Greece we welcomed the 8th International Book Exhibition in the city with a number of outdoor activities which were carried out in Thessaloniki for the first time and brought the books and their authors in readings, walks and book bazaars in novel places from church courtyards to parks and school yards.
The first birthday of the urban experiment was celebrated at the port of Thessaloniki in early June 2011 with the action “The Port Differently”. 12 hours of intervention in one of the most vital parts of the city gave the opportunity to 20,000 spectators to experience unknown aspects of the area and to support the proposed alternative use submitted by the team of “Thessaloniki Differently”. The gentrification of the Thessaloniki Port Authority (TPA) a few months later meant the regrowth of the harbor and constituted the appropriate next step in the initiative of action of “Thessaloniki Differently”.
In October 2011 it was the 13th action in the park which Thessaloniki Differently created in cooperation with the architects, Prodomos Nikiforidis and Bernard Cuomo in the junction of Iasonidou and Euripidou Streets.Utilizing only offers in materials, infrastructure and toys and with the full support of dozens of volunteers and residents of the neighborhood, the group delivered a comprehensive park in a neighborhood full of concrete.
At Christmas 2011 a very broad cooperation with Arsis, Medecins du Monde Greece and Agios Stylianos municipal orphanage, gathered, in the context of the action “Christmas Differently”, 4 tonnes of food, medicine and clothes for our fellow citizens who are in need, by adding another link in the chain of social actions of Parallaxi and the team of “Thessaloniki Differently”.
The first week of March 2012 would be the first design week in Thessaloniki. In cooperation with the Goethe Institute dozens of actions including exhibitions, workshops, shows, seminars, theatre performances and competitions highlighted the capabilities of exuberant creative forces of the city. Graphic design, industrial design and fashion were found in the foreground creating optimism that can establish a creative industry “made in Thessaloniki”, as it was the title of the project. The event was the beginning of a different approach in branding the city in a historic year which marks 100 years since its liberation. From its beginning in the Malakopi Arcade to the great Fashion Show at Villa Bianca in the end, the 9 exhibitions by creators of the city and the urban equipment planned by designers and given to the Municipality, the first week “Made in Thessaloniki” set the basis for what came the following year.
After 15 actions it was high time Parallaxi celebrated the second birthday of “Thessaloniki Differently”. At the weekend of 9th and 10th June 2012, gaze turned to the invaluable and, for many people, unknown coastal front of Thessaloniki. For 48 hours the shores of Thessaloniki were “Different”. The 10.7 miles of coastal front which for years remains neglected and untouched, from the Kalamaki/Kalamitsa coast in the heart of kalamaria, up to the farm of AUTH before the Macedonia Airport in Thermi, highlighted parts of the city that seemed well hidden. More than 30 actions, 50 agencies and groups, 70 volunteers and more than 2000 participants attended two days of actions which included everything. The cleaning of the coast, cycling, guided tours of the historic seashores, theoretical approaches for the future exploitation of the coastal front and examples of applications of urban planning in cities abroad, children’s activities and hiking tours in the farm of AUTH, a fish market and homemade taverns, outdoor activities, environmental games, picnics,a spa and relaxation area in the Riding Club of Northern Greece, as well as a large beach party which ended with the Onirama Concert. Two days with the stamp of “Thessaloniki Differently” which, in this way, celebrated two years of civil activism.
The autumn of 2012 began with the ‘’Thessaloniki Open Yoga Day’’, an afternoon of relaxation and knowledge of the body and mind in a public space with the contribution from several yoga schools in the city. As part of the actions of the European Day without Cars, this project was an outdoor evening dedicated to yoga, which intended to the promotion of relaxation in a public place but also the dissemination of the practice and philosophy of yoga. For 3 hours the public had the opportunity to be informed, inspired, and strengthen the faith and freedom in mind.
Shortly afterwards, in October 2012, came “A Sunday in the Forest Differently” in Seih Sou, the suburban forest of Thessaloniki which is spread over 30,000 acres. The aim this time was the reintegration of the forest in the everyday life of the city and the protection of the basic oxygen source of Thessaloniki. There was the cleaning of the forest by volunteers (250 in numbers, Greeks, Turkish, Americans, Slovenes, Serbians and Italians) games within the zoo for hundreds of parents with children, treasure hunting and guided tours. The day continued with experienced cyclists and technicians of mountain bike, environmental organizations presenting the rich flora and fauna of the forest, actions for children from groups of the city, fairytales about the forest, ladders, acrobatics lessons, seminars, picnics with strict rules regarding cleanliness, a reconstruction of fire extinguishing by professional firefighters, special walking guided tours in cooperation with the forest police department of the city, an improvised “shelter”, a research regarding the utilization of suburban forests in other parts of the world, planting of herbs, ecological crafts, small concerts in forest clearings etc. 250 volunteers, 20 groups, 150, the forest police department of the city, the fire department and more than 5500 visitors who saw the neglected treasure of the city, its forest ,to liven up for a day.
The action of Thessaloniki Differently in “The View is better seen from the Basements” started at the beginning of the winter in 2012 and has created a permanent link of cooperation with a different missioner, father Athinagora. In the basement of the church of Agios Nektarios, in Dendropotamos,Thessaloniki, father Athinagoras has established in 2005 a protection centre for the children of the area, who had deviated from the norms, who grew up in challenging environments or have just been released from prison. In the beginning, for the children of Dendropotamos but also for all those who help the work of father Athinagora, books, CDs and DVDs were gathered and a complete library was created anew, as well as a new guest house with furniture, beddings and the all the necessary goods was fully-equipped. Throughout the duration of the winter a wide network of volunteers offered a plethora of courses, necessary for the children of a neighborhood cut off from the heart of the city and its events.
The next action in cooperation with the National Opera and the Concert Hall of Thessaloniki was “The Music softens the heart” in November 2012. On the occasion of the performances of the comedy opera “The Cretan girl” in the Concert Hall of Thessaloniki two small lyrical events were organised in two surprising parts of the city. The first destination was the building of the Charitable Fraternity of Men in a busy part of the city, the Agia Sophia Square, and the second a neighborhood in which cultural events rarely take place, in the mess hall of the Agion Panton church. In both cases the music that poured out in the neighborhoods touched the people and showed that there is always a different way for the culture to reach a place where usually does not often appear and, what is more, free of charge. The action was repeated in September 2013 with great success in the White Tower. The time when the orange sun was shining over people’s faces and more than one thousand of people flooded around the White Tower, Eleni Karaindrou sat at the piano and the melodies which haunted the films of the internationally recognized Greek filmmaker Theodoros Angelopoulos began to flow around and carry away 14 dancers of the National Opera in a wonderful sight. This small open rehearsal, which was mutually organised by the National Opera, the TCHO (Thessaloniki Concert Hall Organisation) and Parallaxi with the action of the Thessaloniki Differently, was, for those who were in the White Tower, a real treat and a good idea of how public space can be “Different”.
The year 2012 ended again with ‘’Their Christmas Differently’’. The first assessment was again moving: more than 300 people, more than 20 teams and 100 volunteers but also 5.5 tonnes of food, medicines, basic goods, toys and clothes were gathered, filling two buildings at the entrance of the port. More than 4000 people came by Christmas Differently and lit with their smiles the celebration of solidarity organised by Parallaxi in cooperation with the TPA and the action “Thessaloniki Differently”.
In February 2013 in collaboration with other teams in the city, which activate in matters of quality of life and public space, a large street event declared the broad demand of the citizens, as it was also evident from the collection of signatures, for the continuation of the pedestrianisation of Agia Sophia St.
The greatest action of 2013 was “Made in Thessaloniki 2” which was dedicated to the intervention in public space. The aim was to create conditions of conciliation with the area, the history and the buildings that dominate the central urban web, pedestrian streets, playgrounds and off-centre places. By sensitizing creators, designers, graphic designers, artists, leading architectural offices in the city and official bodies, including the Vice-Mayor for Architecture and Greenery, some spots of public space that remained dead and inactive for long periods of time changed their view. Language institutes, political delegations (consulates, embassies), academic institutions as well as dozens of groups and bodies actively participated in the organization of the action.
Initially there was the implementation of interventions in the front views of buildings. The first mural was constructed by design students, together with the famous English creator, Cedar Lewisohn in the bridge of the degraded Agion Panton area. Also, a new playground was created with the help of Petros Papanas and the Association of Parents, Guardians and Friends for the Disabled People of the Lagkada province “ANIXI”.
Students of the School of Fine Arts created modern sculptures in public places.
There was an urban garden created in the area of Lagkada St. with the study of a big architectural office. The aim was the garden to be utilized and delivered to the residents in order to operate safely and with the responsibility of the neighborhood.
The windows of closed shops were converted temporarily into galleries with the help of artistic work. So, the fear of emptiness, as it was the title of the particular intervention, banished in an attempt to give a sign of optimism in times of uncertainty.
There were 2 “Rooms” in historic buildings in the city completely renovated and livened up , in which organizations, affected nowadays by the impact of the crisis such as the State Conservatory of Thessaloniki and the Centre of Education and Reparation of the Blind, are hosted.
There has recently been an engraved pedestrian road due to the light installation of beforelight. A large air intervention across Filikis Eterias St., in the style similar to those of great cities around the world were it was hosted for 4 months. Τhe installation was presenting the real high and width of the most important monument of the city, the white tower.
The exhibition ‘The City and its Towers’ at the Byzantine Museum, inspired by the symbols of the city (its three towers) and the exhibition “The City Speaks” in the shopping centre Mediterranean Cosmos, in collaboration with the British Council and the Maslaha organisation brought the city to the centre of attention, as a place of inspiration and creative expression.
The leading, according to many, urban planner of the world, Professor Jan Gehl, responsible for urban planning in many parts of the world visited the city and talked about simple and cost-effective solutions in order to give the greek cities back to their residents. The lecture was followed by a discussion on the improvement of the quality of life in the two largest greek cities through the increase of bike users. In the discussion, took part, among others, the mayor Mr. Giannis Boutaris.
The action “Made in Thessaloniki2” was in fact a large public festival of creation of the city that its goal was to highlight the hidden force, which will be able to constitute a catalyst for its development and advertising. In parallel with the appropriate advertising of this face of the city it can significantly contribute to the establishment of the city as a draw and attract tourists. Through the participation and cooperation of the largest bodies of the city there was a total effort towards a direction of cooperation.
In May 2013 was “The Game of Treasure Differently “, in the context of the Green Cultural Routes of the Ministry of Education and Religion. A two-day game of treasure, enticing the young explorers who participated in a fun trip in the history of their city, through an interactive game of tour in a very important monument in the historic centre of the city, totally cut off from the daily life of the citizens, the palaces of Galerios. The aim was to familiarize the children with the history of important monuments of the city through an innovative and interactive way, highlighting in parallel their historical background. The vivid memory with which the 90 children who participated, the 150 parents, the 50 volunteers who created the game and the visitors of the site left, proved to us that creativity and imagination can overwhelm the ignorance and indifference in a fun way.
In June 2013 the cooperation with Stereosis for a common creative purpose produced the action “Photographing the City Differently”. By combining the third birthday of the action of Parallaxi with the seventh edition of the Stereosis Photoday, this year’s 7th Photoday and its exhibition took place in the Contemporary Art Centre of Thessaloniki of the State Museum of Contemporary Art. It was a celebration for photography with competitive character, where participants had to take pictures of 12 topics in 12 hours in a film of 12 stops. The money gathered by the participants in the competition was allocated for the strengthening of the Social Medical Centre of Solidarity in Thessaloniki.
While the climate of disappointment prevailed in the city, Parallaxi through our action “Thessaloniki Differently” insisted in a different way believing that the city has the potential to develop and to present the work it has to offer beyond the greek borders. So, the 26th action took place in Stuttgart, Germany. The baggage carried over the most important work of the most creative design offices of the city, as well as creations of industrial designers. A relevant exhibition was put in the city hall of Stuttgart in cooperation with the greek-german initiative “Good Morning Germany”. In their work, the artists and designers approached in a different way and gave a new meaning to symbols of the city such as the White Tower, the landmark of the city, but also the Tower of the Triangle and the OTE Tower. The posters showed the best possible view of the city, linking the past with the present and looking the future with optimism. Furniture and clothes, in turn, provided a sample of what the industrial design of Thessaloniki has managed despite the pessimism of the economic crisis. In addition, there was a concert, in two parts, with musicians from Thessaloniki and Stuttgart.
The European Mobility Week culminated with the “Car-Free Day” in September 2013, gave rise again to action in the public area of the city. Alternative proposals for the operation of the city center, six roads, two squares, 35 events and actions, more than 500 people who have worked together, eight hours a day, one purpose. The center of Thessaloniki DIFFERENTLY, without cars! A huge playground for children with the revival of games, educational programmes by the museums of the city, actions with bicycles, scooters, yoga, samba, zumba, fencing in the pedestrian area of Agia Sophia, an open-air cinema in Aristotelous Square, table tennis in the street, theatre performances, concerts, themed walks with tour guides in the premises of the center, musical parades of bands crossing the center, a photo exhibition on the history of transport, transformed the city center for eight hours into a friendly city for its citizens. Free bikes for everyone, free parking and free routes by the city buses transported more than 35 thousand people in the pedestrianized historic center of the city which presented an unprecedented image, equivalent to the one of other cities abroad with admirable utilization of their public space.
In 2014 took place actions in The West Part of the city, a place with many problems, like prostitution and unemployment, The action took place and dedicated to the showcasing of one of the most important areas on the outskirts of the centre of the city, which remains unexplored and particularly burdened. Also projects in the school for blind people, the Future City project, with speakers that came from many countries. Ιts purpose was to unite the opinions of the private and public local entities and to open a public forum about the next day of the city. On Sunday the 4th of May, Thessaloniki was transformed into an interactive platform for discussions, presentations and proposals for the future of the city. 10 specialists from different countries and Greece shared their own success stories with the public and with the representatives of the authorities of the city. They proved that there is always an alternative way, whatever the circumstances will be, without a high cost and without insurmountable obstacles.
The 34 actions put into practice proved to the people of Thessaloniki that Parallaxi and the team of “Thessaloniki Differently” will always stand with innovative solutions to the problems of the city and will face with accountability and immediacy social, environmental and cultural needs for a sustainable development, giving them the innovative quality appropriate to a European city of 1,500,000 inhabitants.