Transforming high-speed Syngrou

Among many negatives, the Greek crisis has also bred promising developments in Athens on a number of different fronts. For the time being, many of the plans remain in the pipeline. However, in the case of Syngrou Avenue, a relatively typical thoroughfare that blends the characteristics of both an urban avenue and a highway, we are coming close to the end of a long and complex period of planning.

On June 18, a team of experts from the National Technical University of Athens, directed by architecture professor Giorgos Parmenidis and led by his colleagues Yiannis Polyzos and Panagiotis Tournikiotis, are expected to present the results of their study into the complete transformation of Syngrou to the Attica Regional Council.

In the early 1980s, the section of Syngrou running from the Ilissos River to Faliro Bay was made into a highway that allowed motorists to travel at high speeds from the city center to the southern coast of Athens. The highway, Tournikiotis argues, “destroyed the urban continuity and blocked all possibilities of sustainable mobility.”

The new plan picks up from where the transformation of Panepistimiou Street – which links the city center’s main squares, Omonia and Syntagma, and then leads into the start of Syngrou – into a pedestrianized road leaves off. This project is expected to begin in 2014.

The second large project that has inspired the Syngrou renovation lies on the opposite end of the map, where Syngrou comes to an end, at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which is currently under construction at Faliro Bay in the south and will include a new opera house, national library and park, among other facilities. According to the architects, the transformation of Panepistimiou into a street for pedestrians and public transportation only will change the dynamic of Syngrou, making its use as a highway irrelevant.

“We have seen a boom in developments of a cultural character at both ends of Syngrou that are expected to expand within the next couple of years and to blend in with the University of Athens, the cinemas and the businesses on Panepistimiou,” says Tournikiotis. “From the former Fix brewery [at the top end of Syngrou, which will house the National Museum of Contemporary Art] to the new cultural complex in Faliro and the coast, Syngrou will play a new and important role in linking the city center to the sea, while at the same time ‘reconciling’ its two different aspects. To achieve this, Syngrou needs to ‘slow down’ and become a proper avenue.”

The plans drawn up the university team foresee reducing the width of Syngrou, building crossroads that will link the neighborhoods and suburbs that have grown on either side of the highway, enhancing cultural and leisure activities all along its length and also creating a green belt that will flank the new avenue from top to bottom and which will also accommodate pedestrians and bicycles.

“These are proposals that have come from a study conducted by the NTUA for linking Athens to Piraeus, which lies west of the end of Syngrou, which concluded that the Panepistimiou Street project would represent the starting point,” said Tournikiotis.

The transformation of Syngrou will be included in the Athens-Attica 2021 strategic plan, which is backed by European Union funding, and has since June 2011 been undertaken by the organization responsible for Athens-Attica 2012 and the NTUA, in collaboration with the architecture schools of La Villette in Paris and of Strasbourg. The Attica Regional Authority has assigned the NTUA the task of linking the various transformation projects that are under way in the region, which includes the transformation of Syngrou.

The project will go ahead in two phases. The first phase will see the replacement of all pedestrian underpasses with crossings, meaning the the maximum speed on Syngrou will automatically be reduced. The dividing barriers will also come down to make way for the pedestrian crossings. The second phase will take longer as an architectural competition will have to be held for the design of the planned interventions, for incorporating the side streets into the pedestrian network, for the green belts and for the construction of a bicycle lane etc. The construction of a tramline linking the two ends of Syngrou in a straight line is also under consideration.

The good news is that the transformation of Syngrou is not expected to come at too high a cost and can be implemented in a relatively short period of time, once funding comes through from the next EU-backed National Strategic Reference Framework.

“The new Syngrou,” says Tournikiotis, “will be a road for cars and pedestrians, a cultural avenue and a paradigm for 21st-century cities built for their residents.”