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Setting city limits for a more sustainable future

By Giorgos Lialios

The government is drafting a regulatory plan to curb urban sprawl and ensure a sustainable future for five of Greece?s main cities: Patra, Volos, Larissa, Ioannina and Iraklio. The blueprints aim to promote the harmonious coexistence of industrial and urban activities and improve protection of the natural environment.

The fact is that much precious time has already been wasted. The introduction of integrated plans for big urban centers was foreseen in a 1997 law designed to regulate urban development in line with sustainability. But the earliest studies were only assigned 10 years later by Stavros Kaloyiannis, who at the time was deputy environment minister for the conservative New Democracy government. Two of these studies -- one for Volos and another for Ioannina -- are currently in their final phase, and the presidential decrees have been drafted.

?The regulatory plans will provide these five cities with a stable set of rules, directives and aims for development,? said Anna Arvanitaki, an urban planner working for the Environment Ministry who is supervising the five blueprints.

?[The plans] are crucial in terms of the environment as well as development,? she said. The plans aim to safeguard important environmental sites, such as Pamvotida Lake in Ioannina, limit urban sprawl in line with the so-called ?compact city? principles, determine the cities? productive profile, manage transport networks and propose solutions for improving the cities? functionality. Each city faces its own mix of problems. ?Patra faces the biggest problems because of rapid deindustrialization, but the biggest housing pressure is in Ioannina because of the Egnatia and Ionia highways,? Arvanitaki said.

Larissa: Better protection of farmland

The regulatory planfor Larissa in Thessaly covers the Larissa, Kileler and Tyrnavos municipalities as well as Potamia, in the Municipality of Elassona, and Makrihori and Nessonas in Tempe. The document has been hammered out by a group of experts headed by Stelios Tsakiris and Dimitris Economou.

Experts note that Larissa is an extremely densely built city. The plan calls for the decentralization of the population and recommends reducing the size of buildings within the city limits. It further recommends a number of measures to curb Larissa?s urban sprawl, including the stringent application of zoning laws.

The plan also lists measures to ensure the more effective protection of farmland from unruly construction, abandonment and desertification as well as integrated water management.

The Pinios River is being treated as the main axis along which the area is to be organized.

Volos: No houses outside the town plan

The first regulatory plan for Volos includes the plains of the Municipality of Magnisia (Velestino, Almyros, Nea Agchialos) and the nearby villages of Mt Pilio Portaria and Makrinitsa.

The blueprint has been drafted by a group of experts led by architect and town planner Rania Kloutsinioti, and tackles a number of pressing issues, most importantly deindustrialization and environmental decline.

Volos experts worked alongside their Larissa counterparts, as the two cities are said to face similar challenges -- most importantly, poor infrastructure. The experts have made proposals for improving Volos?s industrial units.

The document recommends that no more houses should be built outside the existing town plan. In a first, the plan designates the region?s archaeological sites, while proposing that all of the local university?s research centers be transferred to the old industrial area.

Patra: Revamping the Peloponnesian port

The Patra blueprint is split into two areas: the Peloponnese (Patra, Rio, Messatida, Vrachneika) and mainland Greece (Antirio, Nafpaktos), which are connected by the Rio-Antirio bridge.

The study was carried out by research firm Theorima. The main objectives are boosting Patra?s role, managing construction outside the zoning plan and dealing with a number of problem areas in regard to designation of the use of land and buildings.

The plan identifies a number of areas of farmland which are threatened by unchecked development and demands stricter measures for their protection. Furthermore, the blueprint encourages building secondary residences such as summer homes further away from coastal zones.

Finally, the plan foresees the relocation of the port to Dymaia in a bid to decongest the historical center and free up the seafront.

Iraklio: Developing the hinterland

On the island of Crete, the plan concerns the municipalities of Iraklio, Malevizi, Minoa-Pediada and Hersonissos. The study was carried out by the firm Horodynamiki, headed by town planner Efi Karathanasi.

The study?s objective was to restore a balance between the northern coastal zone that concentrates virtually all development also of the hinterland. The study envisages three scenarios for the future of the city (the first phase has been completed, and the plan is up for debate by the city?s authorities).

All three scenarios converge on the gradual empowerment of the hinterland and the decongestion of Iraklio and the seafront. Urban pressure in the coming years is expected to concentrate on the villages around Iraklio. In order to decongest the city, the experts propose the gradual decentralization of services to neighboring villages.

The study stresses the need to ease the pressure of tourism on the coastal zone and boost mild ecotourism in the hinterland.

Finally the experts recommend steps to revamp the site of the Nikos Kazantzakis Airport after this is moved to the Kastelli area.

Ioannina: Environmental priorities

In Ioannina, northern Greece, the first regulatory plan covers the Ioannina, Anatoli, Ekali, Bizani, Pamvotida, Pasarona and Perama municipalities. The chief priority of the study, which was led by architect Martha Housianakou, is to protect the environment around the lake as well as the mountain area. The blueprint proposes the creation of a metropolitan park in the lake area and a cultural park in the Velissari-Pyrsinella region, and building a recreation and sports park in Limnopoula.

Regarding the city?s urban growth, the plan suggests the creation of commercial districts in Ambelokipi and Anatoli, and the creation of a business center southeast of the university campus.

The center of Ioannina, as well as the areas of Dodoni, Perama, Ligia, Mazia, Pasarona and Bizani, are designated as main areas for tourism development.

Finally, the plan foresees the transfer of the bus terminal and the Zosimades Stadium away from the center and the revamp of old neighborhoods of Kaloutsiani and Platanos.

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