Thessaloniki: regeneration as an ongoing process
Is the latest piece in the series of articles I have been doing for the "Europe in Baltimore" project of the EU National Institutes of Culture Washington Cluster on creative placemaking in Baltimore, linking the arts, creative industries, and transit in terms of Baltimore's three arts districts in Station North, Highlandtown and the newest in the Westside, called the Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District.
Thessaloniki is Greece's second largest city, about 320 miles north of Athens, and is the unofficial capital of the Balkan nations in Southeastern Europe.
The White Tower of Thessaloniki dates to the 1400s and includes a display of city history. Flickr photo by Aris P.
This piece was tougher to write because there are fewer resources in English and I don't read Greek and at times it was a struggle to be "positive" because Greece's cities have been dealing with the fallout from the Global Recession, which has crushed Greece particularly hard, with a 30% drop in economic activity and a concomitant rise in unemployment, and because Greater Thessaloniki has political issues--a different fallout from the re-integration of former Soviet Block Balkan nations into Europe--and because their hosting of the Capital of Culture program was back in 1997.
Thessaloniki Otherwise is a fascinating civic involvement initiative spearheaded by Parallax, the local alternative magazine (comparable to DC's City Paper or the Chicago Reader or LA Weekly). Their big focus is on public space and planning.
Yiannis Boutaris, independent of the major political parties, progressive, and retired vintner is the Mayor, and he is working to rebuild and improve the city's operation and finances and has a great commitment to civic involvement. It looks like he will win re-election--the runoff election is next Sunday and he had the most votes in the primary, held last Sunday.
The city has been continuing to invest in public space improvements, especially in the waterfront. For example, it now holds a monthly "car free" event on the waterfront.
Separately, the EU is helping to fund the construction of a new subway system, which aims to help improve brutal traffic issues. The subway system is expected to open late in 2016.
There are a variety of knowledge industry development initiatives.
Railroad passenger services to Balkan nations were shut down in 2011 in response to the economic crisis, but were restored earlier this month to Macedonia, Serbia, and Bulgaria.
But it is still a struggle for the city government to build support for various economic development, tourism promotion, and government improvement initiatives. Cooperation at the Metropolitan scale is still difficult between the various municipalities.
I suggested that they use the opening of the subway system in 2016 as a milestone event around which to organize new more integrated initiatives to take the city to the next stage in its regeneration program, using planning and implementation models from Liverpool and Bilbao.
I learn a lot of new stuff with each piece I write and it has been a privilege to do the series.