Greece’s financial crisis has given rise to civil society initiatives aimed at finding solutions to urban problems. The results of these efforts are worthy of support by the local municipalities. SynAthina is a social innovation platform set up by Athens in order to engage citizens in such reforms and to bring civil society in contact and dialogue with the city’s administration and political leaders.
SynAthina, one of the five European winners of the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge Award, maps these initiatives, increases their visibility, and helps them connect with the private sector, various experts, and local administrations. By evaluating citizens’ activities and acknowledging the best practices of civil society, synAthina constantly informs the municipal administration about the citizens’ priorities and pushes for updated regulations, simplified procedures, and creative synergies with citizens in order to enhance the administration's efficiency in responding to citizens' needs.
SynAthina has both a digital and a physical presence where civil society activities are identified, shared, and promoted.
Community groups submit ideas with a social impact via the synAthina online platform, which is essentially a map of groups and activities in the city of Athens. SynAthina's website also offers an online tool, which connects citizens' activities with all those stakeholders (city services, sponsors, volunteers, businesses, and knowledge centres) who can offer them support.
In parallel, all interested groups can make use of the synAthina kiosk 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. This kiosk is a municipal space located in the centre of Athens. Groups and institutions can access it free of charge. They can organise and pursue their activities there; exchange experiences and knowledge; or inform the public about their projects. These activities cover areas such as: solidarity; public space; education; the economy; children; the environment; culture; technology; tourism; health; and other emerging challenges.
Open office days and ad hoc and thematic meetings also help the community groups connect with the city and create networks.
Currently run by the deputy mayor’s office for civil society and innovation, synAthina has already mapped 2,263 activities by 277 community groups registered as active members. These activities range from operating soup kitchens to organising alternative guided tours; creating pocket parks; launching anti-tagging campaigns; and most recently promoting the integration of refugees.
SynAthina has also created a new model for co-operative place-making, which is being tested for the redevelopment of various buildings, including the Kypseli municipal market. This model can be used for defining alternative uses for abandoned public buildings.
Regulations concerning the use of public spaces have been updated by the city council based on synAthina’s findings, and the number of city officials involved in collaborative mechanisms with civil society partners has also increased.