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Residents of Thessaloniki embrace their newly renovated waterfront promenade

By Dimitris Rigopoulos

No amount of rain or wind could have stopped the people of Thessaloniki from heading down to the newly reconstructed waterfront last Sunday, December 1, and especially the stretch from the White Tower to the Yacht Club, which had been closed since August 2011 for extensive renovations.

A veritable wave of humanity surged from the early morning that Sunday to enjoy a revamp the likes of which the northern port city hadn’t seen since the 1960s, when the seafront was first shored up. Nikis Avenue, which runs along the coast, was also closed to traffic on inauguration day, making it seem that even though the skies were overcast, the people of Thessaloniki were having a big, spontaneous party.

The waterfront revamp includes a long stretch of parkland totaling some 30 hectares, starting from the White Tower and ending at the Concert Hall. The decision to open the green area to the public before all the work was completed was driven by municipal authorities wanting to show that they could keep to schedule even if that meant that some of the work would be completed later. For all the inauguration’s success, however, the project, which was started under Thessaloniki’s former Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, has not been warmly embraced by his successor, Yiannis Boutaris, who was not present at the inauguration. In fact, in earlier statements to the press, Boutaris had clearly stated that the aesthetic concept of the revamp was the work of the previous mayor and not his own.

Whether he intended to or not, Boutaris paid a compliment to his predecessor with his statement because there is no doubt that the award-winning design by the architectural firm of Prodromos Nikiforidis and Bernard Cuomo has set the bar for similar interventions in public spaces very high indeed.

Along the promenade, the architects designed a succession of 15 separate green spaces, each of which has been assigned a theme. These are like mini-parks, each about the size of a large living room, which resemble the small gardens that once graced the detached houses that occupied this part of the city.

The promenade itself has been repaved and is easier to walk or cycle along after the removal of the cobblestones, while trees and benches line the entire route from the Makedonia Palace hotel to the Thessaloniki Concert Hall.

The entire renovation project is expected to end in March, with the completion of two remaining little parks – dedicated to Alexander the Great and the Four Seasons – and the installation of water features. One of the issues that is still pending is whether the regional authority will allow the municipality to run the seven or eight planned refreshment stands. So far, it has put forward the rather ludicrous argument that the area is supposed to be used for activities aimed at residents and not as a means for the municipality to make money – even though it is the municipality’s job to maintain the green areas, which cost 32.1 million euros in funds from the National Strategic Reference Framework.

ekathimerini.com , Monday December 9, 2013 (16:58)  
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