By Giorgos Lialios
A car-free stretch on busy Syngrou Avenue, which connects central Athens to the city’s southern coast, seems to defy the imagination. Yet the planned pedestrianization of Panepistimiou Street and Amalias Avenue presents a unique opportunity for sprucing up the area around the under-construction National Museum of Contemporary Art at the former Fix brewery, which links the start of Syngrou to the historical center of Athens.
Three of the most important developments that are to take place by 2015-16 in the Greek capital’s latest facelift project are loosely connected to Syngrou Avenue.
At its southern end, there is the transformation of the old racetrack at the Faliro Delta by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation into a cultural park that will include new homes for the Greek National Opera and the National Library. At the northern end, there is the historical center’s aforementioned facelift and the pedestrinization of the Panepistimiou and Amalias thoroughfares. Around the districts of Neos Cosmos and Makriyianni, there is the renovation of the former Fix brewery to house the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
“Revamping Syngrou Avenue is becoming a critical need,” Thanos Vlastos, a professor at the National Technical University of Athens who specializes in urban transport and zoning, told Kathimerini.
“The most typical example is the museum, which is flanked by two main thoroughfares, Kallirois and Syngrou, and lies at the end of Frantzi, another very busy street. The condition of the museum’s environs is depressing, to say the least,” he said.
First of all, Vlastos points out the sidewalks around the museum, on Syngrou and Frantzi, which are very narrow, just 1.5-2 meters wide, and on Kallirois, where the widest is around 5 meters.
On the northern side of the museum, where visitors could have a stroll and relax, there is a huge metal canopy covering the entrance to an underground car park and a bus station.
“This is a completely useless construction that is irrelevant to the architecture of the new museum and which blocks its access from the small park above the garage,” Vlastos said.
The structure is flanked by wide stretches of tarmac used by buses and cars to turn, as well as the entrance and exit of the car park.
“This all gives the impression that in the spot where there should be a pleasant courtyard, there’s a traffic junction instead. What it means is that the walk to the museum will be both difficult and unpleasant, a global first for a museum that is this important,” the academic added.
According to Vlastos, the only solution is to pedestrianize the northbound lanes of Syngrou from the turning to Hamosternas above Panteion University to Amalias Street.
“Once Panepistimiou is closed, there is no reason for traffic coming into the city center from Syngrou to continue up Amalias. It would be much better if it were routed straight to Vassileos Constantinou via Kallirois,” he said.
If that part of Syngrou is made one-way for southbound traffic, the narrow sidewalk in front of the museum could be broadened by 7 meters, according to Vlastos. Similarly, Kallirois could also be made one-way in a northbound lane, and by merging the stretch where Kallirois runs beside Syngrou’s southbound lane, you could also broaden the sidewalk on Kallirois.
The benefits from such a plant would be twofold, Vlastos argues. “In terms of circulation, the restriction of traffic coming into the city center would be achieved smoothly. In terms of the city plan, the integration of the Museum of Contemporary Art into a network of public spaces would promote the city’s modern as well as historical identity. The plan would also serve to encourage pedestrians and cyclists, an objective that is shared by the plan to transform Panepistimiou into a promenade.
“All together, you would end up with a long cultural route starting from the National Archaeological Museum on Patission Street and stretching all the way to the new National Library and the opera house at the old hippodrome,” he said.