Volos Case study

Volos and tools and methods for cultural memory to learn from the past for DRR policy
In Volos, the huge wave of refugees from Asia Minor after 1922, the 1955 devastating earthquake disaster and the current social and economic crisis in Greece all shaped cultural memory of the city. Old and new crises provide a basis for exploring the culture and disaster nexus, identifying worthwhile cultural assets and informing crisis management.
Thus, the main focus of the approach adopted for the pilot activities in Volos CS is on the nexus between disaster preparedness and shocks (new and old) in society and culture. This approach is aimed to be supported by the conceptual Work Package on Cultural Memory which promotes the learning from past experiences as a requirement and pre-condition to learn in the present.
The key final goal is to use cultural memory as a mean of awareness raising and better preparedness for critical events.

Introduction to Volos: memories and cultural assets in DRR

Volos is a coastal port city in Thessaly region situated midway on the Greek mainland. The urban area counts for 150,009 inhabitants (as for 2015) and covers 496.6 km2.

Volos has been a significant industrial centre and is also the only outlet of Thessaly (the country’s largest agricultural region) to the sea. The effect of its economic situation on disaster risk reduction and the effect on vulnerable groups will be put at the core of EDUCEN activities in the Volos case study. After the mid-80s deindustrialization started and the current economic crisis has significantly deteriorated the situation. Presently, the area experiences one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Figure 1:.Location of Volos

According to recent unemployment data (May 2015) from the Manpower Employment Organization, there are 18,783 registered unemployed persons. According to Employment Observatory, unemployment in the age range 24-45 is about 45% (2014). Official data at Prefecture level indicate an unemployment rate in Magnesia of 33.3% in 2012 (the highest in the country). Unofficial data estimates a rise in the unemployment rate to 40%, with higher rates for the young and women. Also indicators on local Gross National Product, industrial production, savings and retail keep deteriorating.

These issues directly relate to main the social structures existing in Volos.

Besides, the city has undergone the shock of integrating a huge number of refugees from Turkey 90 years ago (13,773 according to data). Although there was a need for workers especially in the industry, the integration of this new Greek population was not smooth. They were housed in barracks in a shanty town which was destroyed by a fire in 1930. Little by little the Turkish refugees moved towards the part of the city where is Nea Ionia today. These refugee communities still maintain an identity as a social group.

Figure 2: Municipalities of Volos and Nea Ionia

In terms of main hazards, the area suffers relevant risks to earthquake and floods catastrophes. For example, in the period 1954-1957, severe earthquakes ruined much of the city and in addition these episodes were followed by flash floods.

The development of Volos into the city it is today has been based on crises and disasters. A rough analysis of Volos urban structure reveals the strong effect of both the gradual integration of Greek immigrants from the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1922 and the earthquake disaster of 1954.
As a key example, the history of founding of the area of the neighbour municipality of Nea Ionia is directly linked to the arrival of 1,300,000 refugees in Greece after the “Asia Minor catastrophe” and the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey at 1923. After the formation of the new settlement by refugees, the area was named Nea Ionia, after Ionia in Asia Minor, their original homeland.
Natural catastrophes have also have seriously stricken Volos throughout the XX century in the form of earthquakes and flash floods. These episodes also had serious impacts on the urban structure. For example, after the 1954-57 earthquakes the old urban tissue was wiped out and the reconstruction fully taken up by the Army promoted the construction of standardized new buildings.

Therefore, the Volos Case Study allows a narrow analysis of the role of cultural memory into: i) the mapping of social groups in space and time and the perception of disaster risk for different cultural groups, including vulnerable groups, and ii) disaster planning in terms of urban and structural vulnerability of the city.
Cultural memory refers to the recording and handing down meanings and interpretation from generation to generation. The consideration of cultural memory as an asset in DRR focus on the identification of how to identify and use accumulated experience and knowledge from past crises and disasters to inform and enhance present and future DRR and DRM. Therefore, the aim of the pilot activities of Volos Case Study is to highlight memory/ies and local knowledge of how society handled crises in the past and disaster of what “worked well” and what did not work in past disasters and if/how this can be of benefit for DRR today.
The basis of the study will be mainly the built environment, which performs vital cultural, housing and infrastructural and economic functions. The structure of these areas is linked with time-honed practices of city dwellers. Poor maintenance and demolition impairs the protection function, and thus, the dynamic preservation of this environment coupled with an improved knowledge of cultural memory on risk has a key role to play in disaster planning.
A current debate in terms of urban planning pivots around the enhancement of safety and renewal of the old urban tissue –now significantly populated by immigrants- versus actions dealing with preservation and mild interventions of the building stock.

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