John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
It's like a lamp store exploded in there!
Pittaki Street in central Athens was, until recently, a dimly lit and poorly trafficked alley. It could have easily gone the route of countless of other neglected byways, becoming a dead zone of drifting garbage and seedy characters.
But Athenians decided not to let Pittaki fade away. Instead, late last year they made it the target of a curious micro-experiment in urban rejuvenation. They gathered all the old lamps they could find by digging deep in their closets and crawlspaces and scouring the shelves of antique stores and rummage shops. Chandeliers, shantungs, bell shades, paper Asian lanterns – these they retrofitted with new wiring and weatherproofing and strung up in glowing lines above Pittaki. Today, the alley shines as brightly as a lamp store during a three-alarm blaze.
The year-long lighting installation, handled by design group Before Light and the non-profit Imagine the City, gives Pittaki a supremely cozy atmosphere, kind of like walking through the warm den of your junk-collecting grandpa. The homey effect is magnified by a bed, fridge, table and other pieces of furniture that artists have painted on the walls. What was once a forgettable capillary in the city's veins and arteries is now a destination spot, not likely to fall into obscurity anytime soon.
So why did the urban resurrectionists target this particular alley? According to media outlet Ekathimerini:
"Pittaki Street is an entrance into the broader Psyrri neighborhood, and despite the fact that it is visible from Ermou, the traffic of residents, passers-by and visitors is gradually declining," said one member of the team who wished to remain anonymous. "The maze of surrounding streets hosts a mixture of residential buildings and stores, small businesses and traditional crafts, which are also dying away. This mixture of activities represents what a traditional Athenian neighborhood once looked like. Workshops and antique dealers selling old lights and furniture are very much a part of this identity and of the identity of our project, comprising an excellent subject for this small-scale experiment of urban regeneration."
Kudos, guys, for helping teach the world that not all of Athens is a "burnt-out hellscape." For more scenes of the made-over roadway, visit Imagine the City or check out this video documenting the project from start to blazing finish:
Top photo courtesy of 612gr on Flickr.