The Antonis Tritsis Environmental Awareness Park in the western Athenian suburb of Ilion is all set for a second chance.
The park was completed in 1996, cost 5 billion drachmas (or around 150 million euros) to develop and covers an area of 110 hectares, or seven times that of the National Garden in central Athens. Bordering the less affluent areas of Ilion, Kamatero and Aghioi Anargyroi, the Antonis Tritsis Park is a green oasis, featuring woods, artificial lakes and plenty of open spaces for kicking around a ball, cycling or just taking in the sun. However, following its brilliant inauguration, the park fell into a state of neglect, having been continually bumped further and further down the funding priority list.
?When I first visited the park, it was such a pleasant surprise. Things were not as bad I had been led to believe,? Constantinos Serraos, an architect and zoning expert at the National Technical University of Athens who in 2010 became head of the Park Management Organization, told Kathimerini.
The lakes may have been filthy, he said, but that did not prevent all kinds of birds from nesting there, and maybe the trees were not being watered as often as they should, but the flora is still impressive. The buildings inside the park could also use a bit of work and a coat of paint, yet their architectural style remains noteworthy.
?I realized that this space has a very special quality and it is a mistake to compare it to other urban parks abroad. First of all, it is big and therefore supposed to draw not just local residents but people from further afield as well. Because of the water elements, there are now 180 species of birds living and breeding in the park, according to the Greek Ornithological Society. This is all very impressive when one considers that the park is located in the middle of a heavily urbanized area,? said Serraos.
The real tragedy is the park?s financial situation, added the architect. ?The cash box was empty, the organization was 350,000 euros in the red and the biggest problem was that there were no inflows expected from anywhere. We were expecting funding from ETERPS [a fund through which the former Environmental and Town Planning Ministry dispensed subsidies and which has been frequently accused of intransparency],? Serraos explained.
Adding to the park?s list of woes, the management body was badly understaffed with just one secretary, four workmen and an overseer, when the operations guidelines had foreseen funds for a staff of 50. Now, the staff has been boosted with the addition of an architect, an electrical engineer and an on-call electrician, because the electric at the park needs constant maintenance.
In the past year, the organization has also held a tender for the recycling of the lakes? water, which comes from a drilled well in Kamatero. This is a very costly undertaking that will be funded in part by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
The management body, which was introduced in 2002, had never submitted a detailed review of its finances and operations before last year and it was not until this year that it began generating revenues, which are expected to reach 125,000 euros in 2011 from the leasing of buildings, sponsorships and a number of events for the public.
To those who argue that the park?s public character should be maintained through government funding alone, Serraos responded: ?The state does not have the money. So does this mean that we need to abandon the park to its fate? It is big enough for everyone. All we need to do is work out an understanding.
?Our aim is to restore the park?s reputation. We want to see a public park that makes people interested in it. We don?t want a park that some people take care of and others take advantage of.?
To learn more about the park, check out its bilingual website at www.parkotritsi.gr/english.