View of Rhodes, with parts of the city’s medieval castle in the foreground


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Mayor George Giannopoulos
Making Rhodes a Humane City

A short historical summary
The growing spread of mass tourism has gradually affected those places recognisable all over the world for their rich and ancient histories. Rhodes, at the crossroads of three continents, where historically three civilizations meet, was from the beginning a popular destination for the rapidly developing tourism market, especially the European one.

This fact forced Rhodes to respond to the gradually growing pressure of tourist demands, but to do so in such a way so as to not lose the golden mean between development and sustainability.

At the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century Rhodes was a city with an ancient, almost non-existent, infrastructure. Its once shining image was marred by decay. Its inhabitants were reconciled to the declining course of their region, relaxed in a fictitious prosperity. There were, however, some hopeful seeds of apprehension sown in the face of increasing competitiveness for new and different tourist destinations.

The interventions
Much had to be urgently undertaken for the city, and not only in one sector. The city demanded action on all levels, in planning as well as materialisation. Many immediate problems had to be solved, ranging from heavy infrastructure works to dealing with the habits of the citizens in managing their urban environment. To have pursued the widespread notion that elected authorities are historically connected to one thematic and spectacular task - for Rhodes was at that time - would have been an ineffective and intensely self-centred choice.

One can easily slip into fulfilling the anxious quest of a particular task that will become the milestone of one's office. It is an easily explained human reaction. But the dilemma between the city's perspective and the personal mark tended to be - and in fact is - defective, both politically and ideologically. An exciting opportunity was being offered to realise, by simple and effective means, abstract ideals and values, such as proximity, active citizenship, social solidarity, the cultural cultivation of the citizens, the provision of equal opportunities and the division of competences in favour of regional and local authorities.

Moreover, speculation on whether it is the environment, both urban and natural, that defines the qualities of the social group that lives there, or inversely whether it is the character of the social group that marks the environment by modifying it, is still unresolved - an open question with no final answer, and perhaps both are true. What is certainly true is that any environment that ‘respects’ its inhabitants improves its users’ reaction towards it.

Grasping this opportunity, our aim became to work under the banner of “RHODES A HUMANE CITY”

The Example
Some references to a part of the city – and an important one regarding its character –  show this policy in action. The Medieval Town of Rhodes is located in the heart of the urban tissue of the modern city. It is inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Cities. It is the largest walled medieval city in Europe in terms of population. Due to historically recorded reasons, this population was demographically defined as a rapidly ageing one with an extremely low income.

The Medieval Town was subjected to interventions on buildings with special architectural or archaeological interest, belonging mainly to the Greek State, and on the other hand it was subjected to pressures for changes in land use, due to the demands of rapidly developing tourism.  The latter process had no limitations, hence contributing even more to demographical shrinking. In addition, not even the elementary infrastructures for the Medieval Town to function were in place – including no proper sewerage or drainage system as well as an inadequate electric power supply characterised by ugly overhead cables, and a poor telephone network.

So, a huge project, aimed at placing all the infrastructures underground, began. So far this has covered 75% of the whole Medieval Town. A common tunnel includes the sewerage and drainage systems, the water and power supply, and the telephone and cable TV networks. Close cooperation between the Archaeological Service to ensure optimum network planning, avoiding damage or destruction to underground antiquities, led, among other things, to an almost ready-made exhibition of antiquities of enormous quantities. This was entitled the “City beneath the city”. At the same time, paving reconstruction was done using the same techniques and materials as those of the medieval period. In the end, all these led to a renewed image of a modern, as regards infrastructure, well conserved city – a proper image for a well preserved world heritage city.

This image was the antithesis of its former self, of dereliction and decay. Simultaneous institutional consolidation of land uses contributed to a rational management of development, which, in an environment of this kind, means strictly controlled procedures in changing uses of existing structural shells. This forms the basis of our constant efforts to achieve a balance between the demands of tourism and the preservation of an indigenously populated historical monument to civilisation.

The new face of the Medieval Town demanded a traffic regulation to prohibit all vehicles. To achieve this, it was necessary to ensure the agreement of the residents, being fully aware that the inhabitants of a world heritage city do not necessarily realise the great value of their daily environment. This involved long discussions and compromises with them.This discourse was the beginning of an exciting civic venture that is still continuing. What started out in protest and total rejection of the prohibitive measures, transformed, after discussion, into demands for better guarding of the gates in order to stop violations of that traffic prohibition!

The need for revitalisation of the social group that inhabits the Medieval Town demanded an initial expansion of municipal restoration programs to houses of citizens with low income. In many of them, living conditions were upgraded by minor interventions - but crucial for the residents. These involved waterproofing roofs, additional of sanitary quarters and restoration of the structural stability of old buildings.

The new major target is the development, in co-operation with the state, of housing programs for young couples in ruined but restorable buildings belonging to the state. This will also be done by the modification of such buildings into student hostels, in order to serve the students of the out-of-the-walls, but adjacent, university.

A renewed group of town residents will eventually support financially the need for traditional shops, such as bakeries, green-groceries, and coffee shops, which, due to former desolation, were easily transformed into cheap tourist shops.

In addition, the Medieval Town has consciously been the originating point of a series of projects regarding intangible activities. Its fully determined territory, limited by its walls, facilitated checking any policy by measurable data. Thus it was there that the programs of social care at home started. The proportionally large number of elderly people, with a fair number of them living alone, was met not by relocating them to cold public nursing homes, but by providing them with everyday care at home by municipal employees specialising in social and nursing vocations.

This initiative as a result gave birth to a volunteer group for the support of the elders in situ. Thus, a volunteer housewife, going to the market for shopping, takes the responsibility of buying provisions for her elderly lone neighbour. In addition, an Open Center for Active Ageing was founded in the Medieval Town, which provides ageing people with space for social contacts and activities. Parallel to this there is the Aid at Home program for the invalid people of the Medieval Town, as well as a Municipal Preschool Center, to help the working parents of small children.

Even more, programs for facilitating access to the labour market, consultative programs for occupational guidance and business activity, programs for aiding small businesses to find suitable employees, have been tested with success and spectacular results regarding the attitude and behaviour of citizens towards their city and their social groups.

In the Medieval Town, moreover, a Citizen Facilitation Bureau has been established, with on-line connection to state and municipal offices, in order to accommodate the day-to-day dealings of citizens with these institutions.

In order to help the residents appreciate the value of their city, the Municipality of Rhodes became actively involved in the Organization of World Heritage Cities. A continual flow of information about the Organization’s activity to the people, the application of its programs, the enrichment of our knowledge with positive experiences and practices adopted by other cities with similar heavy burdens, helped to transform the complete ignorance of the past into a firm consciousness of the value of the Medieval Town.

Furthermore, the residents of the Medieval Town have been organised into forming a union, as did the merchants and the owners of clubs, being aware of the fact that this environment, in which they function, has other qualitative demands and that good administration of this environment means, among other things, greater profits for them. All these unions and many more (parents of school-age children, parish councils, sport clubs etc) have formed an autonomous common coordinating council of their own, which acts as an interface between the inhabitants and the Municipality, in order to discuss the policies and practices to be implemented. The residents and the users of the Medieval Town are now proud of their city.

The strong bonds that have evolved within the social fabric contribute to establishing a growing cohesive relationship between social and urban tissue.

Conclusively, the Medieval Town of Rhodes has become a model for the administration and management of world heritage cities, offering unique examples of protection, conservation and promotion, in parallel with being the visitor’s first choice among the sights of the entire island.

The example of the Medieval Town is indicative of the state of the rest of the city.
The modern city has acquired, within four years, a complete and functional drainage and sewerage system involving a modern biological plant with solid waste going to a modern sanitary landfill, after the selection of recyclable materials.

Water efficiency has been ensured through an extended drilling and tanking network, connected with remote control systems to detect leakage. A long-term solution for the water supply of the city will be ensured by the construction of a large-scale dam, which has already begun.

The disturbance created by a project as large as the sewerage system reconstruction in such a limited time presupposed extensive and persuasive discussions with the citizens in order for them to become well informed of the value of the task and to consent to accepting the turmoil and temporary upheaval. It also presupposed a corresponding program for the renovation of the neighbourhoods, in order to give back to the whole town its unique identity, eliminating those elements that formerly spoiled the city’s image.

The port of Rhodes is being expanded and, simultaneously, a new marina is being built, while the new perimetric road, aiming to relieve traffic, is already under construction.

The work on the squares and parks have added to the quality of life. In fact, the whole town has become a model of application of policies of social care and the elimination of prejudice and social exclusion.

In the area of leisure, a series of policies have been implemented for people of all ages, including athletic and cultural events and training activities. Identifying the city through important cultural and athletic events will increase the desire of the young to participate more actively and, at the same time, will promote the city, directly and indirectly, as a destination for alternative quality vacations.

For all these reasons, it was necessary (in addition to the self-evident fact of the necessity for negotiations with the citizens) to improve the city’s productive ability and to reduce the functional cost of its municipal services and to ensure more financial resources. We shall struggle ceaselessly for the necessary legislative regulations, both at national and European level with a view to establishing municipal appropriateness in a large spectrum of activities that rightly belong to local government – with a maximum of common sense and a minimum of bureaucracy.

That is why the journey to proper local self-government is so exciting. It is no longer merely confined to such things as restoring streets, because it has regard, above all, for human beings. It demands one’s presence and action everywhere – internationally and locally, claiming as well as delivering. Alongside its administrative responsibilities, it offers the challenge of practising direct forms of democracy.

In Rhodes we have learned that our passage through time will leave our mark upon the city. We have learned to recognise the value of the heritage our predecessors have passed on to us. We know that through cultivating ourselves we will change the shape of our passage for the good. We are citizens of the globe who passionately love our land. Every event at the most remote spots of our planet concerns us as equally as the lamppost in the narrowest alley of our city. We are proud to have in our city functioning in one small neighbourhood a Christian church, a mosque and a synagogue. This is our contribution and our wish for a peaceful world.

In the end, isn’t this a Mayor’s role? To share his dreams and his efforts with his fellow citizens? To advocate and participate in a common struggle that will produce a society of better people?

George Giannopoulos, Mayor of Rhodes

George Giannopoulos, Mayor of Rhodes

George Giannopoulos was born in Ethiopia in 1954.  He graduated from the Metsovio Technical University of Athens in 1977 with a degree in Architecture. Mr Giannopoulos began his career as an architect and town planner in 1977 with offices on the islands of Rhodes and Karpathos, and is currently serving his third term as Mayor of the City of Rhodes.

From 1983-1994, he headed the Dodecanese district of the PASOK political party. From 1983-1991, he served as Prefectural Councillor of the Dodecanese district. He was elected Mayor of the City of Rhodes in October 1994, and re-elected in 1998 and 2002.  Since 1994, in addition to his responsibilities as Mayor of Rhodes, he has served as President of the Union of Local Authorities of the Dodecanese Islands District. From 2000-2003 he was a founding member and Chairman of the board for the Council of Greek Island Municipalities (SINDKE).   He has also served two terms as Board Member of the National Union of Local Authorities of Greece (KEDKE): 1994-1998 and 1998-2002.  In 2003, he was elected and still serves as Vice-President of KEDKE.

Since 1995 he has been a member of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), and since 2000, a member of CEMR’s Executive Bureau.  He was elected, and currently serves, as Vice-President of CEMR in 2001 and re-elected in 2004. He was elected President of the Organization of World Heritage Cities in 2003. In May 2004, he was elected as member to the World Council of the World Organization of United Cities and Local Governments.

George Giannopoulos is married and has two children.  He is fluent in Greek, English, French and Ethiopian (Amharic).