Postcards from Athens
Greetings from the invisible city.
Even in our digital era, postcards have never lost their status of 'cities ambassadors': they cross countries carrying messages from people and memories from places. They collect the best backgrounds from their city of reference and contribute to consolidating a specific cultural image.
However, when the pressure from the (multifaceted) touristic industry becomes unhealthy, the narratives of postcards often turn into empty, monodimensional, storytellings. The graphic illustrations that follow aim to criticize the concept of the ‘city as a product’ using Athens as a case study.
Athens' origins and growth have always been rooted in solid narratives (i.e. Greek mythology and the Classic culture) that created a strong identity throughout the centuries. Nowadays, in response to the prolonged economic crisis, the city is undergoing a massive re-branding with an outright touristic vocation. The exploitation of Athens’ old narratives to promote touristic venues and activities is having the effect of excluding alternative uses of the public space and making the struggle of the daily survival invisible.
Athens is a ‘Welcoming City’. But for whom? For which uses? And for how long?
In the form of the most common touristic souvenir, Postcards from Athens emphasizes some of the invisible emergencies that are being washed away from the economy of the ‘city as a product’, such as the restriction of the common spaces, human displacing and inequality.
Some iconic parts of the city are considered valuable only as touristic venues. On a deeper level though, their value also consists in being common spaces for demonstrations, resistance or, in general, spaces for citizen expression.
In the name of a pleasant appearance for visitors, the memory of the city may be at risk. The old and abandoned refugee housing complex of Alexandras Ave on the picture is covered up (in the occasion of the 2004 Olympic Games) making part of the city’s history invisible.
The market logic pursues a selective highlight of Greek assets, trying to stereotype life in Greek cities and detaching it from an unwanted reality.
"Athens is the new Berlin!"
Street art commits to the expression of Athens invisible struggles. By bringing colors to the hostile built environment, street art often raises awareness around the living conditions of the most vulnerable part of the population.
Neighborhoods such as Exarcheia are stigmatized as unsafe and dangerous and are, therefore, wiped out from the most popular touristic venues
The re-branding of Athens as “welcoming city” prioritized urban interventions for the sake of tourists' accessibility, only. Everything that doesn't add value to the “city as a product” is neglected, excluded and often incriminated.
* Postcards from Athens was first presented on June 2018 by Urban Cosmography authors in the form of a small art installation at the conference Urban Struggles in MediterraneanCities: The Right to the City and the Common Space, at the National Technical University of Athens.