Tópio: Engagement – Empowerment - Expression

The Challenge: 

The Question: 

How can youth and citizens be empowered in order to use their creativity and become catalysts of change in their own neighborhood?

The Problem: 

Need to enhance sense of active citizenship, while opening up the schools for the local community and connecting them to public space.

The Solution: 

Use non-formal education and placemaking approach and tools to activate youth and citizens on a neighborhood level.


Tópio is empowering high-school students, training them to become the catalysts of change in their own neighbourhoods. We strongly believe that the re-use of public space can improve the physical, mental and psychological health of urban dwellers. For this reason, we focus on the importance of connecting healthy cities and “placemaking”.

The pilot version of the project took place at the 19th High school of Thessaloniki from December 2015 to May 2016. The name of the project is a combination of the Greek words “Topío” (place) and “Tópi” (ball), which points to youthfulness, games and children.

Tópio Stencil Intervention

photo credits: Olympia Datsi

stencils: Pop-Up & Paper Stories

Our vision is to re-imagine the school as an open platform of discussion and interaction for the whole neighbourhood, where students lead the transformation both inside and outside its premises. We wish to get youngsters caring for their local community and public space, by initiating cultural and other activities. At first, these take place inside the school building and yard, and are then transferred out to the neighbourhood, eventually empowering them to invite the local community inside the school.

Our team focuses on enriching original and location-specific ideas with data, information and constant interaction between the local community and the public space. Based on previous experience, we develop various educational tools for “placemaking” that are not previously known to the local communities.

Although the whole process meets several obstacles, such as bureaucracy, we remain focused on our vision, trying to seek collaboration with the municipality and other local authorities. However, it is very important for us to preserve our self-organization and encourage bottom-up action.

Students' hands in color during intervention

photo credits: Vivian Doumpa

Who benefits from Tópio?

  1. Youth (school kids & university students) wishing to become catalysts of change in their own neighbourhood in collaboration with their teachers.
  2. Local communities wishing to contribute to social cohesion and upgrading the urban landscape.
  3. Everyone who wants to be active and participate in the development and co-formation of public spaces.

Tópio kick-started as a pilot project within the framework of the START: Create Cultural Change, by Robert Bosch Stiftung conducted in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Thessaloniki and the Bundesvereinigung Soziokultureller Zentren e.V. (German Association of Sociocultural Centers). So far, the project has attracted the attention of the press and several European organisations. For example, we are very proud of our involvement in the project “The City at Eye Level” working with Dutch “Stipo” and other practitioners.

We are reaching out to citizens through a dedicated website and our Facebook page, which includes all information that needs to be transferred to potential beneficiaries.

Empowering youth and citizens' participation by activating their creativity

photo credits: Callie Vei & Alexandr Emmanouilidis

The people behind the idea

My name is Vivian Doumpa and in my early 30s, I have a degree in Urban-Regional Planning & Development Engineering, and I am a post-graduate in Urban Geography specialised in music in public spaces. I have a long-life education in music, and I am currently participating in a project of the research team “Critical Music Histories”. I am also the co-founder of “Creativity Platform”, a non-profit, collective scheme, seeking to function as an interdisciplinary platform of exchanging ideas, actions, research and applications related to the “creative capital” and the “creative economy” in the city of Thessaloniki as well as the whole of Greece in general. Since 2016, Tópio is a significant part of this collective scheme. Being in charge of the project, I had the chance to enrich my professional experience with technical seminars in Project Management (Germany), in the field of Cultural Management. It was a great challenge to combine Urban-Regional Planning and enhancement of active citizenship with creative means.

My partner, Olympia Datsi, works as a freelance trainer and mentor in the european/international volunteering field and non-formal education, co-ordinating youth projects. Moreover, her educational background based on Landscape Architecture, Interior Design and Fine Arts. She is in charge of the educational activities of Tópio, dealing with communication, training and empowerment of high-school students and citizens. Since 2013, she is also co-founder of the “Creativity Platform” and has a massive interest for sociology and public space.

Olympia Datsi and Vivian Doumpa, the team behind Tópio

photo credits: Victoria Datsi

As with all like-minded people, our professional relationship and friendship run on the basis of trust and respect. After all these collaborations in multiple projects, we have learned many things from each other’s capacities. We have taught ourselves what is the best way to move forward with the project: from sensing children’s needs and stimulating their interest in the public space, to approaching municipal stakeholders.

This good spirit of synergy and way of thinking and acting helps us to make progress. And we enjoy this feeling of pleasure and satisfaction when people get motivated by our ideas. One of them is my mother, who is really supportive and active in our interventions in the neighbourhood. Although in the first place it was quite hard for her to understand what actually “placemaking” is about.

The two dragons that were created during the second intervention of Tópio in March 2016, by Theano Giannezi and Athina Pappa

The two dragons that were created during the second intervention of Tópio in March 2016, by Theano Giannezi and Athina Pappa

photo credits: Vivian Doumpa

Artworks: Theano G. & Felix Felis


Activities and tools you use in and outside schools

Noemi's picture

Nice to meet you Vivian at @Tópio, and thanks for showing these beautiful pictures! I suggest we show them when giving your project a shout in the network.

You mention various educational tools for “placemaking”. Do all your activities in the project involve public art of some sorts? Or do the kids learn other ways of engaging with the landscape? 


environment we create crucial in mental, psychological health

Village-Psy's picture

Topio sounds like a very interesting project with a lot of potential. Cities in Greece need to be 'creatively' taken care of' and become more humaine and grassroots activities such as yours targeted to raise awareness in the new generation can pass on crucial messages about what it means to care about the space we live in.

We at village psy are also interested in the use of space ,landscape and natural surroundings  and how they can can influence and improve physical, mental and psychological health . Our aim though is the exact opposite in a way, in other words to draw adult urban dwellers , out of city centers and bring them for a few days back to their 'natural surroundings , a village maybe somewhat similar to the one their ancestors came from '.

The idea is taking psychotherapy outdoors In locations outside therapists offices and conference rooms where they can benefit from the small community( similar to a city neighborhood) and the natural environment itself.

Therapeutic perspectives offered in village psy  ,  such as music therapy, Dramatherapy and Playtherapy  point to the youthfulness that is so crucial in your own work , which, as adults , we tend to loose.

Reading about  how you got started ,  the good spirit of synergy in your collaboration  based on trust and respect reminds us a lot of our own philosophy....this we strongly believe is the way forward. Keep up the good work.