Since the 1980s, planning public spaces for leisure walking is largely linked with economic and cultural objectives. Parallel to this tendency and the priorities of local authorities on barker public space projects, inhabitant’s associations, that grow up after the 2000s, propose new ways of visiting the city through collective walks. Drawing on the example of the Atenistas group, and based on the discourses of its founders, its presence on social media and the narratives of participants, the purpose of this paper is to question the emergence and function of new forms of urban walking that joggle between tourism, social exchange and act of citizenship.
The case study is based on personal semi-directive interviews with organisers and participants at “Atenistas Open Walks”. It is also based on interviews that have been held with architects and urban planners within technical services of the municipality of Athens as also as within private sector’s structures.
First insights from the study question pedestrianisation as a dominant urban planning tool towards animated street life and performant local economy. Contrary to the traditional top-down approach in Athens’s public space planning which uses pedestrianisation or land management to re-invest on the city centre, Atenistas Open Walks reveal the existence of alternatives ways of a re-engagement with city values and history. People search to explore the city by themselves and re-trace their proper itineraries (and ways of seeing the city) by outpassing official discourses on the decline, the success, the dangerousness or the beautifulness of certain neighbourhoods. Consequently, walkers constantly nourish their will to better understand the city. Public space experience outpasses morphological or functional issues. The act of walking with others in the city willing to explore places and to exchange on this experience, confront people with different narratives and trajectories and can momently be a strong factor of social cohesion and activation of public space with significant impacts on local economy. Walking collectively can emerge, in this way, as a counter model of public space planning capable of revitalise not only touristic activity, but also citizenship.
The study questions dominant discourses that link urban liveability and touristic attractiveness of urban centres with recreational events and streets’ pedestrianisation projects.
The author gratefully acknowledges the insightful suggestions from the anonymous reviewers. The author also gratefully acknowledges Atenistas’ co-founders and the four residents (Interviewees 3, 4, 5 and 6) who have participated in OWA’s work for their generosity and openly sharing their experiences and thoughts via face-to-face interviews or e-mail. The author thanks the Department of Urban Planning of the Municipality of Athens, as well as to the SUASA for opening up their archives to the author. No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
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