Greece’s capital city, Athens, and second largest city, Thessaloniki, were included among the 35 cities across the world that will join Rockefeller Foundation’s “100 Resilient Cities” initiative, was announced yesterday. The initiative is dedicated to help cities become more resilient to physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century.
As “100 Resilient Cities” President Michael Berkowitz underlined, “We proudly announce the second group of cities selected to join 100 Resilient Cities. Cities that have demonstrated a commitment to build their own capacities to navigate the shocks and stresses of an increasingly complex 21st century. During our first 18 months, we’ve seen our first cohort of cities mature, appoint chief resilience officers, and embark on their own resilience strategy processes. No doubt this momentum contributed to the immense response we saw to the second round of the 100 Resilient Cities challenge, with 331 exceptional applications from cities across the world, submitted in seven languages. Each city was asked to present a clear and compelling description of their major resilience challenges, how they are approaching and planning for resilience to decrease vulnerabilities, and how they plan to partner with us.”
In the project description of Athens it is underlined that it “is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for over 3,000 years. Many consider it the cradle of western civilization. More recently, economic challenges across Greece, including austerity measures and cuts to social services, have led to high unemployment in the city, averaging over 50% for young people. The city has made significant efforts to expand welfare services and provide critical relief to citizens – food, shelter, childcare and healthcare services – but this has strained city resources, especially those needed to shore up aging building stock and infrastructure. Over 30% of the city’s buildings were constructed before the first building code for earthquake protection, a vulnerability in a country with the 6th highest seismic activity in the world.
Athens also faces risks from ongoing environmental pressures. In recent years, heat waves have increased in intensity and frequency, straining healthcare, emergency response services and the electrical grid. In response, the city will undertake a large urban regeneration plan, expected to start in 2015, that provides long-term risk management for climate shocks.”
At the same time, Thessaloniki is described as a city with a rich history and a major hub of business and culture, from the Roman period to the Byzantine Empire. “Today it is still an important metropolitan region for Greece, with an active port, a respected university and a robust tourism industry. The city, however, has also been affected by the economic and political crises that have rocked Greece in recent years. Growing unemployment from a shrinking manufacturing sector and lack of opportunities for young people have increased social needs, while resources to provide services have decreased.
Tensions have led to the rise of extremism, riots, civil unrest and broken relations between residents and public authorities. With new projects to upgrade infrastructure, officials see an opportunity to build trust and engagement with community members by involving them in planning processes. They are also using this approach to build response plans to earthquakes and other natural disasters, as well as engage new youth networks in resilience planning,” is noted.
On his behalf, Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis highlighted that the municipal authority has put all its energy “into protecting social cohesion but we are now looking for paths of sustainable growth and social revitalization,” adding that it has been rewarded for its plans over “urban regeneration, social innovation and entrepreneurship.”