Spatial manifestations of collective refugee housing

The case of City Plaza

Eleni Katrini

Published in Issue 2.1 // The Long Read

Keywords: collective housing, refugee squats, sharing culture, space, urban commons, solidarity, migration


Within times of social, economic, and environmental crises, shelter and housing become intertwined with issues of forced migration and nomadic living. Since 2015, hundreds of thousands of people from Africa and the Middle East, have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea in attempt to evade conflict and exploitation, while searching for safety and stability. This movement has been framed by European governments through the lens of ‘crisis’, and thus has received different approaches as a response. Among them, some have been paternalistic in nature, some hostile, while others solidary. This article investigates City Plaza, a solidary approach to refugees, which proposes radical housing solutions for migrant populations through the occupation of vacant urban spaces. City Plaza is a self-organized collective housing hosting both refugees and activists squatting in a vacant hotel in downtown Athens, Greece. It offers a housing solution in the urban center as a counterexample to the state and NGO’s approaches of remote camps. The goal of the article is not only to present this case study as a solidary story to current refugee narratives, but to investigate critical spatial characteristics influencing the initiative. The case presented is part of a series of ethnographic case studies that investigate spatial patterns of collective sharing culture practices as everyday alternatives to capitalism and uncover ways through which space can enable and support them. The case studies follow an interdisciplinary research framework for studying spatial patterns of sharing culture, drawing concepts and methods from social sciences and theories of practice, architecture, urban design, and planning. Data are collected through interviews, documents’ review, spatial documentation, and mapping. The qualitative data analysis offers insights to the initiative’s history, structure, challenges, context, and value, but most prominently offers findings on key spatial characteristics that have shaped it.

Eleni Katrini is an architect and researcher from Athens, currently based in London. Her research focuses on urban commons, sharing, urban ecology, and specifically examines the relationship between space and sharing culture through academia and practice. She is currently a lead urban designer at Newham Council, London, as part of the Public Practice program.

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