A meeting at Trondheim

Let me remind you one of the photos from the opening day at Yannis’ venue at Trondheim:


Let’s zoom in to one person:

bjørn røe

Bjørn Røe, professor emeritus of NTNU, department of Urban Design and Planning. Father-in-law of Alexandra Angeletaki, the person who put the Organization for Greek-Norwegian cooperation in contact with Vitenskapsmuseet and supported as best as possible the success of the venue. For example, half of the visitors at the opening day were there thanks to her! With one of them, professor Axel Christophersen, we contemplate already some future cooperation. But this will remain a project to talk about in the future. Today we will write about the meeting with Bjørn Røe. Bjørn speaks Greek fluently – with his Greek wife, Annouso, beside him, you could hardly make out that he is not Greek, but Norwegian! They have a summer house in Mykonos, Annouso is from there, and that’s where they spend their summers. But I bet you that their Mykonos has nothing to do with the jetset “reality” of the island promoted in the media… In any case, Bjørn Røe has lived also in Athens where he studied the metropolitan planning of the Greek capital. It was with Athens as his base, that he traveled in 1992 to 9 cities in Africa (Cairo, Khartoum, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Dar es Salam) and Asia (Karachi, Bombay, Colombo, Bangkok) for comparative reasons with the main study of urban planning in Athens. This comparative approach should be understood in the framework of Ekistics, a term coined in 1942 by Konstantinos Doxiades and referring to the science of human settlements. Interestingly, Røe was working for Doxiades Associates in Athens between January 1963 and August 1966 and is a member of the World Society of Ekistics since 1969. The Greek urban planner Doxiades is a person of particular interest, as we will see shortly. Bjørn set out for his research trip on February 22 and he was in Khartoum by the end of the month. He stayed there for only one day, since the conditions of work were difficult. The new regime (Bashir seized power in 1989) was sympathetic to his cause for only one reason: he could be shown on TV in conversation with the president and thus become material for upraising the profile of the ruler abroad. Bjørn remembers that back in those days there was a daily TV show presenting such visits of foreigners to Bashir’s office. He had come himself to the president to ask for assistance for his field trip, but instead of that he got proposals for university collaborations! In any case, the remarks that one can find in Røe’s report though about the Sudanese capital are very interesting. I am copying hereby the main paragraph about Khartoum, from p. 11 of his report: KRT From some other references in the report we gather that the growth of the Sudanese capital is mainly due to the refugees from the Civil War that by July 2011 split up the country in two. I have not been to the country since then, but Khartoum must have changed a lot without the southerners, the income from the oil in their territory, and a good deal less humanitarian investment that used to be channelled to the needy South through Khartoum. But have the conditions of living changed for the poor in Khartoum in the 23 years that have passed since Bjørn Røe visited the city? Before one answers the question, it is important to raise the view outside the core urban areas and examine what’s happening in the far away neighborhoods, marginal suburbs and so on. The surprises are not that often so positive… Anyway, nobody can guarantee that if some theory of the group of the Ekistics was applied to the letter the future would have been that different. The housing conditions at New Extension are indeed nice if one lives in the amaras (large family domiciles with two floors and a garden) of this part of the town. However, what percentage of the Khartoum inhabitants can afford such housing conditions? Moreover: Is it really true what the Greeks say that the whole area was planned and built by Doxiades? I had heard many stories about the Doxiades’ involvement in Khartoum urbanism, but never had an inside view on what actually happened. For the first time in this report, I learnt that Doxiades’ plans were never adopted, but that they were used as guides (…) for development. Please do read some work by Doxiades, like his article “Ekistics and Traffic” from 1963 (where in fact Khartoum is mentioned in pp. 9-10, and you will realize that this guide was not really followed with any degree of respect to the model. On the contrary, reading this paper created to my mind a strong contrast with the memories of everyday commuting in Khartoum. To express this contrast with an example: If things have not changed that dramatically since my last visit to Khartoum, it should not be a far fetched guess that my blog entry (including Doxiades’ article!) could be read while trying to drive in peak hours over one of the bridges that connect the three towns of the Sudanese capital…

This entry was posted in Greeks of Sudan, Norway and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.