Will our Olympic finery remain?

Athenians who came back from their holiday during the Olympics might have wondered if they’d arrived in a different town – the city has been cleaner and greener, more orderly and cheerful over the past few weeks than it has been in most of our lifetimes. New trees have appeared, even a few in the Ermou Street pedestrian zone which until then was little more than a concrete wind tunnel. Flower beds have materialized everywhere one turns, and streets have been free of litter. The Municipality of Athens has over the past year planted over 9,700 of the 10,000 trees promised by Mayor Dora Bakoyannis when she took office last year, and the municipal authorities promise the effort will continue even without the extra staff employed during the Olympics. In addition, about 50,000 shrubs and 350,000 annuals have been planted. «It is true that an extra effort was made to clean up Athens for the Olympics, but we want to keep it nice for Athenians,» Angelos Moschonas, the deputy mayor responsible for green spaces, told Kathimerini English Edition this week. Mochonas said previously unused sites have been forested, such as the former «Alepotrypa» (literally «foxhole») quarry in central Kypseli where 650 trees have been planted to create a new park in a densely populated area. Other established parks such as Philopappou Hill, Syngrou Park and the archaeological site of Plato’s Academy have been reforested, and main roads such as the beginning of 3rd September Street planted with trees and shrubs. The Ermou Street pedestrian precinct is another case in point. According to Moschonas, these will be maintained, even though the contracts for some 170 extra staff hired for the Games will expire. The director of municipal greenery, Dimitris Kiriakakis, said the municipal parks department has a staff of about 700 people, half of them gardeners; the remainder are drivers, carpenters, administrative and other staff. Michalis Stogiannis, president of the landscape contractors’ association, thinks this is a very large number of people for the actual result that has been achieved, at least until now. «The municipality has a huge budget for greenery, but this is not evident in the city,» he told Kathimerini English Edition. Water management still remains a problem, as 70-80 percent of current supplies comes from the mains (the Athens Water and Sewerage Company, EYDAP). The remainder comes from drilling. «We are drilling more wells; one is in the Police Park (Alsos Horofylakis) and we hope to bring the percentage of mains water down to 50 percent,» explained Moschonas. As for the cleaner streets, this is a job that has been helped along with the addition of new vehicles bought to speed up the job and these will be a legacy to help keep the city clean even after the visitors have gone home, he added. Municipality ‘is trying’ Dimitris Karavellas, WWF Greece’s director, told Kathimerini English Edition that in evaluating the work done, a distinction needs to be made between the Athens Municipality, which he said had made many efforts to improve the urban environment, «many of them very positive,» and the Athens 2004 organization, which he said had done very little. In an «Environmental Assessment of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games,» published just before the Games began, WWF Greece said it was evident early on during preparations for the Olympics that the environmental component would attract «only marginal attention» and accused the International Olympic Committee of indifference. «Whereas the IOC pressed the host city on a number of issues… it refused to intervene in environmental issues, claiming that these were a national affair… The contract between Athens and the IOC makes only general reference to the environment,» according to the assessment. The Games’ positive legacy for Athens’s environment, according to the WWF, has been the improved public transport system, the removal of large billboards, refurbished building facades, the new sidewalks and pedestrian precincts, and the public awareness campaign against littering. «For us, there are two categories of problems. First of all are the open spaces that are already green but badly managed. These definitely need a proper management body to implement activities and everything else involved, such as staffing and funding,» said Karavellas. «Then there are the spaces such as degraded sites which should be greened. Athens Municipality is trying to do this now – and this is very positive,» he added, citing the Alepotrypa as an example. In its assessment, WWF called for a broad discussion about the aftermath of the Games to begin «right after the lights of the Athens Olympics fade out.» This discussion should include «an honest and objective valuation» as part of an «integrated assessment with the participation of interested organizations and social groups.» It called for all temporary constructions to be removed within two months, and approved, but delayed, ecological restoration projects (such as Schinias and the Faliron Delta) completed. The debate on the post-Olympic use of most venues has already begun, but WWF says decisions should be reached through a «public consultation process involving citizens from the areas concerned.» It also calls for a framework for the long-term protection and ecological management of Athens’s few free spaces. Karavellas said that this has not yet happened. «There is often a difference between intentions and practice. We’ll see what happens. We have not had any contacts (with officials) yet, but we intend to in the near future.»

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