From ‘void’ to ‘voidness’ - a trans-scalar and relational approach to urban voids in post-industrial cities. Learning from Eleonas, Athens, Greece

Post-industrial urban environments are often constituted of a patchwork of urbanisms that result in the creation of urban voids; large inactive and neglected areas where key spatial, social and environmental factors are ignored. Highlighting the importance of a relational and trans-scalar approach to planning, this thesis uses the ‘urban void’ known as Eleonas in Athens, Greece to investigate the idea that there is a transformative function proper to these spaces. This function, termed ‘voidness’ is defined as the capacity of urban voids to induce transformative urban change across scales and across urban form, activities and socio-economic contexts. Hence, throughout this thesis there is a gradual shift from the investigation of an epistemological object: the ‘urban void’, to the exploration of an ontological process: the ‘voidness’ and its implications in daily life and planning practice. 

Drawing from the disciplines of Urban Morphology, Urban Metabolism and Urban Political Ecology, I trace the transformation of Eleonas in space and time and track how the notion of the ‘void’ is conceptualised at the scales of the region, the municipality and the neighbourhood. Using mappings, observations and interviews with policy makers, residents, local workers and academics I examine under what conditions areas are perceived as ‘voids’ and how this affects the decision-making of the local planning administrations. Furthermore, I explore the derelict and decaying morphology of urban voids, the dwindling local economic activity, the conflicts between local reality and regional planning and critically addresses the dismissal of these spaces as ‘backyards for unwanted uses.’ 

It was found that the conceptualisation of spaces as ‘urban voids’ is subjective and changes depending on the scale of investigation. Whether they are considered in a positive or negative light, these differing perceptions skew decision-making towards specific actions and developments often with catastrophic spatial, social and economic consequences. Hence, a reconceptualisation of the urban void is suggested and more appropriate planning tools and policies are proposed towards a more context-oriented approach to spaces such as Eleonas.