Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Evaluation Report of “The Myth of the City”, 9 – 15.9.95 (Draft: 14 November 1995) - Hatto Fischer


There will be given a short interpretation of the ACT-VILL of DG XII, but the main orientation of the tender by DIALOGOS / Touch Stone European Network was Action 1: the Development of new terminology for urban planning.

As a first overview of the Crete Conference “Myth of the City” – pre-history and present problems for ‘cultural actions’ – reference is made in the written presentation to the European Conference in Berlin, Nov. 1995 to two preceding events, the Fifth Seminar in Athens, June 1994 which followed “Culture, Building Stone for Europe 2002” held in Bruge, 1993, and to the European Poetry Festival “Poetry and Myth of Europe” held in Crete just prior to the Fifth Seminar. Thanks to the suggestion of the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly, the idea to continue gave birth to the theme “Myth of the City”.

The structure of the “Myth of the City” conference was by nature complex due to the many forms of interactions, all while trying to link discussions to the role of ‘myths” (Cassirer), to the poetic dimensions of urban life (e.g. the Irish poetess Paula Meehan talked about the need of cities to preserve “wild and untamed places”, and asks which places still allow for 'tough dreams' about life? Further discussion points of the conference included:

1. Technology and culture: future options for cities;

2. The contrast to cities: the life in villages like Kamilari or Milia;

3. The reason for the downfall and destruction of great cities in the past;

4. A review and reflection of planning practices, but also lived through realities in a city like Chania (Nikos Stavroulakis and Eleni Ilioupoulou, the latter active as governmental representative in Chania's planning developments for three years.)

It was clear from the outset that different approaches to life in cities prevail with regards to planning and decision making processes. Hence, as a follow-up to the tender, nine questions were formulated, in order to stipulate terms of evaluation. As for the answers given, they need to be placed in an understandable context of understanding to allow for comparison.

As to some of the members of the tender group, they are the following:

This comparative basis must include historical reflections and a philosophical problematization of the terminology to be used. By means of assessing the discours of a city, e.g. comparing texts of the past about Paris by Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin etc., with text written in recent times, developments in that city can be gauged.

The poetic counter poles to the analytical approach to a city include the poets who attended: Pedro Matea, Maja Panajotova, Baptise Marray, Sofia Yannatou, Katerina Anghelaki Rooke, Liana Sakelliou Schultz, Emer Ronan, Andrietti Stathi, Paula Meehan, Brendan Kennelly, Hose J. Reina Palazon, Bruno Kartheuser, Anne Born, Theo Dorgan). They allow for still another comparison between the city of childhood and the city of 'new dreams'.

There are furthermore the political aspects of future development to be considered, in particular how local conflicts are resolved. Thus the problem of violence is but one dimension of governmentability, while models of solutions differ, qualitatively speaking, in terms of participation. The latter begins already with the children, especially with the values they grow up with, in order to relate to their 'place' (not to be mistaken with the term 'environment' commonly used). They, and not only they, but everyone else must find their way. There is the specific problem of the human glance as explained by Bart Verschaffel, since at risk to become a mere side glance, in face of so many efforts to make visible in cities "the strengthening of life." Ever faster, more powerful motor bikes are being produced, so that in this world of products the human being disappears really from the surface of daily perception. One way of achieving positive development is to strengthen democracy at local level. At the same time, there is an apparent lack of need for real public debates, that is in the old style of face to face encounters. Instead it has been replaced by 'networking' via Internet and the use of "Information Highways". It means that nothing is accessible outside the Edge City, nevertheless there is still a potential for a positive development (Andre Loecks).

There is a need to become more sensitive to impacts of certain and overall investment schemes since they are really the symbols of non-participation and thus alien to people living in those cities having imposed upon them 'tough interventions'. The original idea of the tender was to "web" cities, that is by allowing the creation of human relationships at different levels, so that mono-functional uses are avoided and informal-formal control mechanisms allow for a 'peaceful complexity' to develop. These are some of the positive criteria, but they are in need of further assessment and evaluation in terms of what is happening to the idea of city planning (Sue Tilden). It is felt that the key issues must resolve in the opinion of the participants of the Crete Conference the question of not only who but how does someone become a citizen of the city? How is that decision of recognition made? Whethe this recrognition process is formally institutionalized or not, out of it follows if urban structures can be based in future on such human relationships, so that participation in multi-cultural domains makes up the really urbanity, and constitutes the urban fabric? It is, therefore, not only a question of how to avoid violence, given the fact that there is also the risk of violence being directed against the city e.g. vandalism. An even greater dimension of violence has to be taken into consideration when considering the fate of Sarajevo, or what happens to a city like Chania turned up-side down for the sake of mono-tourism especially in the Old Town? Violence is entailed in driving out the local residents with new development projects causing all kinds of displacements of long term residents. (Sue Tilden, Hatto Fischer, Nikos Stavroulakis, Brendan Kennelly).

When speaking about European Cities: social cohesion, voices and viewpoints at theconfernece, it was generally felt that a headstart had been made in trying to identify the poles of attraction and repulsion - the city as a must, as a system of coercion, but also as a means of cultural expression and economic activities (Brendan Kennelly, Bruno Kartheuseer, Reina L. Palazon, Socrates Kabouropoulos, Paula Meehan, Katerina Anghelaki Rooke, Pedro Matea, Sofia Yannatou, Anna Born, Dimitri Stathakos).

When referring to Myth and Reality of European Cities, participants of the conference mean myth as something specific, a concrete way of living practice. This has many implications for the language in use. Hence the terminology used to name and to explain things, has to be examined in terms of its epistemology for meanings of concepts are subject to change over time. This applies as well to the term 'city' for instead of being an inhabitant for many people, the opposite can be true once the city has succumbed totally to 'consumption', thereby driving not only the life out of the city, but also incurring a loss of 'myth' as may be the case of Paris (Baptiste Marray). There will be always a linkage between the mystique and mysteries of a city, provided the sense of a place is still alive and of interest to those who wish to explore it in an adventurous way e.g. what James Joyce did of Dublin.

As a beginning of a Comparative Study of European Cities under the theme 'Myth of the City', it is proposed the following:



It is being proposed that special funds are secured, in order to prepare and to publish as part of a dissemination process the conclusions of the Crete Conference on 'Myth of the City'. Furthermore, steps should be undertaken to develop perspectves for future 'cultural actions' in support of the improvement of life in European Cities, and this to be taken as a practical complement to the ACT-VILL program already in existence.



The conference took place in Crete, 9.-15.9.1995. Fifteen poets and fifteen "urban experts" (from seven European countries), that is planners, architects, historians, environmental engineers etc. attempted to link a "voyage through Crete" with a "voyage through the mind". It started in Iraklion by discussing the possible linkage of culture with technology in terms of what future cities face. The discussion took place in a High-Tech Park installation set in the midst of a beautiful countryside. It provoked the poet Brendan Kennelly to remark that this is a part of the "Hearth City" or a 'rur-urb' since neither rural or urban. The participants went then on by bus to the village Kamilari near Phaistos where in the evening there took place first a discussion with the people of the village about cultural projects and then it was followed by a poetry festival in front of about 500 people. The next day the discussion was continued at Phaistos, itself an appropriate place to discuss what brought about the destruction of once famous cities now left in ruins (in reminder of Constance de Volney)? The discussion turned very quickly to one key topic, namely why so much cement as building material is being used nowadays and why so much wisdom of the past has been lost in recent history? It is exemplified by people abandoning their stone houses since they have become a symbol of poverty, and this in exchange with the cement constructions into which they move in. Once in Chania, the conference took place at the Old French School of the Polytechnic of Chania, in an attempt to relate both poets and planners together to the questions cities pose. The three day conference concluded with a discussion about violence in cities. The participants went then on to Kissamos for a round of discussion with local authorities, the bishop Irenious (a leading and respected figure in the area with a very sane vision for the future) and the development agency ANETEK which coordinates the work of 54 communities. The last day in Crete was spend up in the village Milia, one which has been re-build with EU money and which is set in a mountainous valley. All houses are made out of stone and the entire village is a positive example for agricultural and eco-tourism. Again a remark made by Brendan Kennelly who lives in Dublin can be taken as an indication as to the reflections and experiences made through this contrast city-village: "now I know that I am leading an unhealthy life as an urban dweller when I see Milia and breathe quite a different air."

For the antagonized human spirit in our present age, this means the following evaluation of the conference:

"What really emerged is that the city is a threatened dream and a struggling

reality, a place (or places) from which people must escape, towards which

they must travel, and in which they must work and live. We have created a

repulsive-magnetic phenomenon."

                            - Brendan Kennelly, taken from a personal letter 6.10.95


He went on to say, that at this conference the effort to define the sources and nature of both the revulsion and the magnetism of cities has found "a good headstart." For it 'opened the door' by which many can now enter, in order to start a different discours about 'life in cities', indeed about the 'concept of life' itself (note: a first presentation of this was made at the ATTICA Workshop for "Medium-sized Cities" organized by Voula Mega from the European Foundation for Working and Living Conditions, and which took place in Lavrion, Greece October 1995.)

Indeed, the aim of this conference in Crete was to bring together different disciplines, in order to confront urban planning and 'decision making processes' within cities with poetic and philosophical observations about life in European Cities.

This aim is linked directly to the call for tenders by DG XVI of the European Commission with its program ACT-VILL, and which gives a key emphasis to the AGORA concept. Since this concept derives its original meaning from Ancient Greece, it was deemed as being quite appropriate to confront not only problems of modern cities from the side of myth, but also by starting this conference in Crete by reminding the participants of the start of European Cultures and Western Civilization e.g. the Minoan culture. This conference is thought to be a 'cultural action' which can be taken to other European Cities, since only then a truly comparative basis can facilitate the cultural adaptation of a European policy on Urban Planning related matters. It raises immediately the question whether or not such a 'cultural action' can fulfill the aims of comparative research? Usually research is done through field work, case studies, in depth inquiries into decision making processes and critical evaluations of the discrepancies between planning and reality etc. Obviously such a conference can be but a start of such demanding inquiries into the planning practices by almost educating the participants to assume different roles of responsibilities in discussion urban issues across disciplinary borders. Nevertheless the value of such a 'cultural action' type of activity has to be justified both in terms of continuity, that is by going to other cities, and of 'quality of work' done in reflection of what has been said and made possible as 'learning configuration' for the evaluation of urban policy and planning.

One departure point for the discussion amongst the poets and "urban experts" was Calvino's book "Invisible Cities": a text felt to be appropriate due to a technological age making possible 'invisible infrastructures' while those living and working in High-Tech-Park like conditions feel a need for a "low touch". e.g. by going in Athens to the Plaka to enjoy a down-to-earth experience reminding of past life free of technology and therefore in part what the AGORA concept supposedly to mean. In a study with students of the American college in Athens, the book by Toulmin, "Cosmopolis" was used to compare people's behavior, attitudes, ways of showing identities when in the Plaka area as compared to some outer rich suburb like Kifissia. The fact that shopkeepers in the Plaka would be standing out in the street, in front of their shops, so as to approach directly potential customers passing by, while Kifissia merchants would remain at the back of their usually highly polished stores with large shopping windows and wait there for the customers to come in, indicates already a sharp contrast that goes well beyond mere descriptive understanding. It is always thought that cities without a positive urbanity in which people can feel free to be themselves, that these areas are usually devoid of any special meaning. There exists no sense of place and therefore is without a positive spirit which could guide the vision and planning for that specific district. More than 'civic pride' which only active citizens can acquire, there is needed a love for the place they live in, for otherwise no human contact is brought about nor do they take up collective responsibility for the place i.e. the workings of informal control. Without that dimension of 'otherness' being acknowledged in the daily contact with the others, there will be no positive reminder of human reality reinforcing what roles each has to play to make the community a lively and safe place. Also it would mean that the human potential to develop and to relate to many different faces, voices and stories would be extremely limited, and therefore nearly out of reach for humanity on this earth.

Several things follow out of such a description. As a 'cultural action', the conference meant that the participants were being informed by local authorities as much as they informed the local communities about possibilities to avoid one-sided developments e.g. in the village of Kamilari not to leave the stone houses and not to sell property and houses, but to uphold the social and economic cohesion of the local place. Since many mistakes have been made during the Post-War period emerging out of a Civil War (1945-48) and a military dictatorship (1967-74), it is interesting to note what clear messages come from local people contacted while preparing the conference and during the conference itself. The main message seems to be that "people are no longer sure if it was the right direction of development they took several years ago, and this despite the fact that they have now running water and electricity in all of their houses." They say this because they are missing valuable things such as the knowledge of what one eats and drinks. This is because a supermarket is governed by an anonymous distribution system, so that there is no telling if the olive oil being sold and bought is as good as the one produced by Kostas across the street or even by oneself as long as still in possession of olive trees. Once urban life spreads out, then an exchange between more liberties and newly created dependencies, determines the outcome in terms of 'quality of life'. The latter becomes negative once 'self determination' and 'self reliance' are diminishing rapidly. As this contradicts any notion of the 'universal man' as known during previous periods, in particular the Renaissance in Italy, that does not need to be mentioned here. It is, however, important what texts are being created in the process so as to reflect what is going on and to facilitate the gain in knowledge so that the direction of development can be determined by all participating in the process.

The working with different texts,including reflections by planners and poems about cities, means that such a 'cultural action' interacts at many different levels in both a scientific and cultural way. The conference in Crete contained as much public discussions on possible cultural projects in the village of Kalimari (close to Phaistos) and with youth "on violence in cities - violence against cities" in Chania, as it involved poetry readings, dance performances, video showings, lectures, and full participation of everyone, including children, from the area around Milia in poetry reading at the small amphi theatre. It meant a constant re-adaptation to different settings while switching from being treated like a special guest to someone really giving something. Most of the time this involved 'translation' not only from Greek into English and vice versa, but also from one expert language into a common language. The main aim was to communicate with local people, in order to let them know what the conference was all about. This passing on of information extended itself by individual dialogues as the participants were guests in various homes and therefore developed personal contacts.

Altogether there were involved seven local authorities, two universities, and one development agency. The group's character was composed by elements of research, cultural mediation, translation work (every poet was translated into Greek and vice versa Greek texts of local authorities made available in English, German, Spanish, French whenever demands for further understanding and clarification arose), philosophical discourses (in particular due to the presence of Bart Verschaffel from the University of Gent and of Hatto Fischer), comparisons (mainly with the help of American urban/regional planner Sue Tilden), environmental assessments (Yannis Phillis, President of the University of Crete, Technical University in Chania and who dealt specifically with the criterion of 'sustainability' in terms of economic growth in relation to rubbish being produced) and historical analysis (for example, Nikos Stavroulakis gave two excellent papers on historical paths cities may take and will once they have lost their urbanity and multi-cultural core).

Naturally, the group functioned at times in a semi-advisory position, in order to bring about a continuity of cultural co-operation and to secure the flow of new ideas. At the same time, the group was like a constant learning process absorbing like a sponge whatever was observed, noted and found to be 'strange' or unusual. This meant also not to be shy in confronting political authorities when the reputation of the to group composed by well known academics and poets was not safeguarded enough. One prime aim was to open up perspectives for future activities e.g. development of 'cultural tourism' in Kamilari and an extension thereof the creation of an archaeological park around Phaistos. A lot of the discussions concentrated on what would be a feasible vision for a new local development model adapted to Crete. It was stipulated such a development path must be balanced best done by encouraging a settlement network covering the entire island rather than letting Crete be dominated by three big urban centers. The idea of the "100 Cities of Crete" during the Minoan period was picked up after discussions with the Bishop Irinaios in Kissamos.

Some main themes emerged out of the various discussions and events which took place throughout this one week long conference:

Some perspectives for the future

The Crete conference 'Myth of the City' envisions in the light of the problems and ideas a continuity of these kinds of 'cultural actions'. For 1996, the group plans to meet around Easter to complete the evaluation of the texts which have been made available by the participants, and this in reference to specific literature e.g. James Joyce's Ulysses. As an urban novel it has received further treatment by the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly who wishes that poets listen to the voices of those living in the streets, in particular children with other home but a cardboard box. Poverty, unemployment, violence - they all add up to a lack of perspective for the future. Under such circumstances, no normal life in dignity is possible.

One of the participants on behalf of the planners, namely Phil Cooke, stresses, therefore, the need to create a 'culture of excellence' (with all sharing the same values to ensure excellent work is being done), so that innovation becomes possible and loss of work and perspectives overcome. To this has to be added a special condition often treated as exclusion from the rest of the society. For instance, the language used by those who live in a ghetto can reinforce a negative entrenchment in a false polarisation between us and them, so that the opinion prevails that no solutions can be found as long as society does not change. Impossible demands are then translated into negative utopias and justified to be able to uphold threby the human dimension by staying completely outside the system.

In order to get out of the vicious cycle of unemployment and social deprivation, special places and lively neighborhoods must be fostered. That is, local initiatives of these kinds have to go hand in hand with a new concept of an urban plan. Furthermore, it goes without saying that 'humane solutions' have include a full comprehension of real living conditions. To facilitate that, cultural adaptation must go hand in hand with cultural articulation made possible by social recognition and participation in setting the local agenda.

A lively culture overcomes the loss of language and ensures that articulation possibilities are given. That means, not merely needs are being expressed, but also the conditions for their fulfillment reflected upon. Thus local actors have to assume responsibility so as not to let this become an one sided affair. It matters how 'real' needs are defined since this is the prerequisite for all solutions and planning practices. Since most cities are usually build on the concept of extravagent solutions, a modification thereof must be discussed far more openly with architects, but also with sociologists, historians, artists and especially with the famous 'man of the street'. Real needs require an imaginative mapping of possible routes so as to be able to experience the city. The discovery of the urban space is an essential ingredient for such further going experiences. James Joyce set here an example with regards to Dublin.

Strong criticism was vented furthermore at the conference, when life in the city is being portrayed as being a mere victim of seduction by a consumptive culture which aims to retain only certain images (e.g. the woman as sexual object.) In particular the showing of the video "Voyage a Paris" (Jef Cornelis, Rudi Laermans - 1993) by the philosopher Bart Verschaffel made the point that cities must counter one form of argument, namely that 'streaming of images' at the beginning of the twentieth century was not just another advent of the consumer society, but had altered dispositions. The latter has primarily "changed people and things into 'show pieces'...so that the ultimate figure of the modern metropolis has become the prostitute, made for looking at as both human being and commodity, since now a mere object of desire and prepared for the sole purpose to be consumed." The desire to live has to include naturally the erotic, the feminine, the masculine dimensions but it should be done in such a way that the potentiality of the human being remains to be a part of the memories of the city, and thus can be expressed by searching for a continuity of identity between past, present and future.

Aside from a thorough evaluation of the tests written for and collected during the Crete conference "Myth of the City", following 'cultural actions' are planned already for next with year although the search for financial support has just started:


This evaluation report is based on a self-financed initiative, thus there was no budget available for a comprehensive publication. This is said in the light of the European Conference to be held in Berlin November 1996, and whose agenda is among other things the possible alternative financing of such a tender group as ours. The major outcome of the Crete conference was to reaffirm a moral commitment to improve life in European cities and to see what possibilities there exist to enrich the AGORA concept. As the participating poet from the German speaking minority in Belgium, namely Bruno Kartheuser, said it, this concept must include the notion of cities being centres of trust in the world.


Hatto Fischer

Athens 14.11.95

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