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What Do We Do About the Lake? A tale of urban resilience in a small Greek city

17 May 2017

Last month, the Resilient Europe URBACT Action Planning Network met in picturesque Ioannina, Greece to share and learn from each other’s efforts to embed resilience and sustainability strategies in their respective cities. By using an Urban Living Lab (ULL), the city aims to establish an inclusive approach for seeking new ideas, best practices and new approaches to revitalize the lakefront. This ULL is providing a platform for the municipality, citizens and other stakeholders to work together towards a more integrated solution.

 

The host city for the network meeting, Ioannina (Greece), presents an excellent case study for exploring the tensions, and possibilities for creating urban resilience and unpacking the challenges that arise along the way. The city has many aspirations and ideas about liveability, sustainability, cohesion, and development while also being acutely aware of the chronic stresses and shocks they are facing. Taking part in the Resilient Europe network has been a start to bring some of these ideas and aspirations to life and it is providing a space for citizens to engage and contribute in new ways to creating a better city.

An Ancient City by the Lake

The municipality of Ioannina has a traditional urban centre. With a population of just over 112,000 inhabitants, it is located at the north-west of the Greek Peninsula in the region of Epirus which is in the cross-border area between Albania and Greece. The city's modern development is marked by its advancement in arts, literature, trade and tourism and is supported by the development of the regional infrastructure including Ioannina National Airport (King Pyrrhus), the Water Sports Center, the motorways and the city’s hospitals. The city has a complex, urban ecosystem with challenges that include extreme poverty, environmental and climatic hazards, air pollution, infrastructure issues, and mobility problems.  In addition, the city is facing pressure of newly arrived refugees in need of public services and care.

Like many cities, Ioannina also faces pressures to undertake regeneration of urban areas, maintain urban infrastructure and addressing the ecological degradation and depreciation of its greatest natural asset – Pamvotida lake. The lake is beloved by the locals and tourists of all ages.  It is the one of the most important symbols of the city.  It provides a place for recreation, sporting events, entertainment as well as a place to bring people together in conviviality and offers stunning views as a compliment to the majestic mountains that tower over it. 

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Under Pressure

Like many natural assets around the world Ioannina faces social, ecological, infrastructure and institutional pressure.  The accessibility to the lake is intermittent at best and it remains largely cut off from the inner city and the neighboring districts. This lack of accessibility means in part that the lakefront suffers from derelict and inadequate infrastructure. In recent decades, it has become polluted by sewage and runoff from local farms which means people are no longer able to swim in it. This is creating ambivalent feelings from many local people towards the lake. They love the lake but are also frustrated by the poor state that it and the surrounding infrastructure are in.

What has also detracted from the lake is that in the previous years, planning, design and development had a strong focus on the city centre. Major development projects took place there including improved pavements, lighting and public spaces. This process resulted in a major transformation of the city that highlighted the urban centre but did not include or correspond to the lake and the surrounding natural areas.

The Tide is Changing

The city is now addressing urban resilience through an integrated, strategic and participatory process.  It explicitly aspires to have a waterfront that is a public place of enjoyment with good access to both the water and the shore. The city also wants a waterfront that serves more than one purpose and combines a place to work and to live, as well as a place to play. In other words, they want a place that contributes to the quality of life in all aspects – economic, social, and cultural.

And this is the main reason why Ioannina has joined Resilient Europe and is creating an Urban Living Lab (ULL) to establish an inclusive approach for seeking new ideas, best practices and new approaches to revitalize the lakefront.  The Labs are place-based experiments designed to bring together various stakeholder around a common theme.  It this case the focus will be on the regeneration and recovery of the Pamvotida Lake. What distinguishes Urban Living Labs from other types of governance interventions is their focus on open-ended learning and innovation, including the opportunity to question existing assumptions, hierarchies and practices.

The ULL is providing a platform for the municipality, citizens and other stakeholders to work together towards a more integrated solution. The next phase is defining an experiment, a concrete action or project. Challenges to this process include how to organize the meetings so that all the voices are heard and creating an atmosphere of trust and equality.  While the process can be messy at times with many starts and stops what is clear is that a genuine willingness and energy exists to find a way to clean up the lake, create better access to it and provide facilities for people with diverse needs and abilities to be able to enjoy it.

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The Resilient Europe Network

The Resilient Europe network brings together 11 European cities that are exploring what transition towards urban resilience implies in different local contexts and how to make this a genuinely collective, socially inclusive process. Resilient Europe is applying the lessons from the innovative governance approach of Transition Management. For more background on the network and urban resilience please see Ania Rok’s excellent article from last October: Ready for the Future? Urban Resilience in Practice.

The Resilient Europe network was launched in September 2015 and will continue until May 2018. It is led by the City of Rotterdam and supported by Niki Frantzeskaki, Tricia Hackett and Chris Roorda. To stay up to date with their progress check back regularly the Resilient Europe website or follow @resilienteurope(link is external) on Twitter.