By Eleftheria Alexandri (Municipality of Athens) 

The meetings that we had for the project ABCitiEs in Varaždin and Čakovec were very fruitful for the members of the Municipality of Athens. The warm welcome by the Croatian team and also by the rest of the ABCitiEs partners to the relatively new members from Athens made us blend easily and comprehend much easier the needs of the project and the next steps we need to make, than just reading about it.

No one-fit-all-solutions
The research questions of the project that we have to put in practice and the ways to measure the results are not easy to answer, while there are no univocal solutions. As we heard Prof Steven Millington from the Metropolitan University of Manchester commenting ‘practices that might be successful in one area, are not necessarily successful in another one’.

Jeroen Jonkers from the Municipality of Amsterdam also pointed out that ‘one of the challenges that one has to face is to find the way to keep the energy and the participatory processes going on in a neighborhood. What Municipalities around Europe have to do is to comprehend what is taking place in each case and with fast reflexes to propose solutions to citizens and entrepreneurs; to provide the appropriate assistance for their implementation and to find ways to keep the momentum of participants.

Trust is key
In most cases, trust among participating members is the most important issue, as has been pinpointed by many and many times during these three-day meetings.Nonetheless, during the years of austerity and due to mall practices, this trust between citizens and the municipality has been ruptured in Athens. In the Municipality of Athens we face a general mistrust from citizens, both on decision-making processes and also on practical issues, such as recycling, which is a great obstacle for any participatory process. Luckily, we are not alone; in a way I was relieved to hear colleagues from the Municipality of Varaždin that they also face the same issues. It is an obstacle that cannot be solved through this project and not only by a municipality on its own, but, at least, we are not the only ones on the planet who have to face this and challenge it!

How do we measure succes or impact?
The way to measure success and impact has also been discussed during our meetings in Croatia. Being of an engineering background, I am always amused listening to the two camps of social sciences, the qualitative and the quantitative ones, arguing who is right and who is not. I guess the answer is in between, taking both qualitative and quantitative parameters into consideration, as long as the methodology is appropriate and boundaries are clear.

Footfall as an indicator
I was impressed to hear about the ‘footfall’ that is used in the UK and the methodology of the National Highstreet Taskforce, something that we should also start looking into in Athens, making baseline data regarding vacancy rates, business diversity, number of people who visit a place, so as to be able to compare and thus to be competent to make more flexible and resilient management and government structures.

The industrious Varaždin and Čakovec meetings have left a positive impact and a very promising future for the project. Our Croatian partners have put the quality of hospitality at very high rates. I hope we do manage to keep up with them during the next meeting in Athens. Again, hvala lepa for everything!