Crisis Landscapes

Petros Babasikas

01 
The Mediterranean Metropolis and its outer regions are unraveling: new spaces are created and older ones erased through cycles of entropy and disaster. History crystallizes on its thick urban ground as palimpsest, in its interior voids as erosion and personal debris, in its diffuse surroundings as landfill and ruin. In Greece, the constant crisis accelerates and overlays these urban transformations in a continuous present. It grows rifts, sediments, common structures and hybrids on the urban landscape. 
New urban realities emerge and old patterns reassert themselves within them, informally, in post-industrial drosscapes, infrastructural fields, historic center enclaves, the interstices and interiors of the polykatoikia:[1] waste ecosystems, Olympic ruins, temporary shelters, parking gardens, hidden orchards, makeshift dance clubs, terrace bars, electrical freeloading stations; patched-up public spaces, burnout landmarks, security perimeters, control points, barricaded thresholds; crowded, neat, shut-down interiors, accommodating the remains of affluence with mementos of a turbulent yet forgotten 20th Century. The Public – top-down, designed, inclusive – recedes into the historic ground;  Civitas, Waste, Water and Migrations become global issues; the Commons – bottom-up, undesigned, exclusive – rises. 
An event field of demonstrations, communal gatherings, activist, volunteer and support groups, militias, entrenched religions, gated communities, mass tourism, festivals, feudal media/cultural centers, shopping, outcasts, new extended families, immigrants, freelancers, a new diaspora and the unemployed, inhabits the above. A red line is firmly established in Greek society as it is negotiated between the North and South of Europe; people and social groups claim their place and distance from it, in disjunction, disconnection and skin-deep rage. 
The images of the crisis are either exhausted or inscrutable. Its urban and social landscapes are locally mediated by and globally broadcast in a specific montage of riots, poverty and failure, talking heads, speculation punditry, non-contextual statistics and disaster narratives, sea-and-antiquity postcards, Photoshop visions, cultural postcards and unlikely success stories. The montage dominates the public sphere and eclipses the image of the city and the self-image of its citizens in a strongly moderated, hyper-media stream of spectacle, insolvency and uncertainty: a delirious, anxious, ubiquitous carpet of white noise. 
Certain Mediterranean cities cannot be photographed. Any attempt to take their picture is insipid, flawed, or ineffective. The overwhelming commons of these cities is inertia. Aborted metamorphoses, attempted plans, half-squares, ephemeral architecture, once-specific art, everyday rituals, casual play, informal construction, straddle parking, urban residue, slogan graffiti and spotted marks bury themselves on top one another in constant, oblivious, democratic landfill.  In there, no trace is more significant than another; no building needs to stand out;  the collective engulfs the individual;  dust and fatigue mix with clarity and vigor;  and grand projects are equal to natural disasters.  Their palimpsest, from brown dark basement to white antenna terrace, demands the invention of new recording apparatuses:  scanners of the ground, of density, and of people. 
Such is the urban and ex-urban past, context, field and object of the constant crisis.
02 
The depressed city engenders new operations of urbanity and sociopolitical realities: acute urban diffusion, away from theme-park historic centers; immigrants, the sunken middle class, and freelancers, living informally in the ruins of modernism; hard territorial barriers and soft virtual gates; a new feudalism in media, sports and public benefit foundations. What are the emerging landscapes of the crisis?  The places where untold stories land, unfold and are forgotten? 
Abandoned buildings and their urban voids, traversed by the marginalized; large industrial or artisanal ruins sheltering the homeless; post-industrial residential enclaves, cut off from infrastructure and the city; small apartments teeming with reunited siblings, children or parents; abandoned developments depreciating behind perfect walls; burned landscapes surrounding ancient sites; cars turning into homes; kilometers of ports, highways and drosscapes traversed on foot; Olympic ruins hosting niche hobbies and roaming dogs; broken urban surfaces no longer patched-up; the crisis opens previously invisible domains. 
The everyday culture, clement atmosphere and social history of the Mediterranean Commons now transfers to fringe, pre-modern areas of the city. Light, community, hospitality and momentary joy thrive there. In open air markets, ancient sites, traditional night clubs, old grocery stores, riverbeds, communal gardens, connected terraces, and the beach, a human mode of urban life is rediscovered. These spaces are archetypes: Agoras, Gardens and Monuments nurturing relief, depth, ideology, diversity and openness. They guardedly broadcast themselves, not to the media, but to new communal networks in the digital city: their vibrant, controversial and busy public space is a physical-digital hybrid. The new recording apparatuses, the scanners of the ground and people required to envision the depressed city may be created at this nexus: interfaces that generate clarity and navigation, transcending polarities, exposing Crisis Lanscapes, telling untold stories, straddling the red line, unmediated. Arcs of images and texts; anti-screens; sidewalk museums; viewports to the shape of things to come. 
Building these urban and social interfaces, nurturing and releasing these physical and digital networks, putting together these emergency machines is the promise and challenge of the Depression Era.
Back to Top