Big plans for greener cities

Everyone wants more open green spaces, clean sidewalks and playgrounds, and every four years, mayoral hopefuls try to convince voters – nearly half the country’s population – that they are the ones to do the job. As the people prepare to go to the polls on October 15 to choose their new «housekeepers,» the same promises are being made, but as usual, without any specifics. The Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and Cultural Heritage last week presented the Athens and Piraeus candidates’ answers to a questionnaire on their environmental policy, in which promises were made for everything from fewer billboards to more recycling and parking areas to toll fees for cars entering Athens. (Only one – Theodoros Dritsas – of the candidates for Piraeus City Hall completed the Society’s questionnaire.) The Athens candidates had all formulated policies yet steered away from controversial issues such as removing commercial activities from existing green spaces or expropriating private land for public use. Bioclimatic architecture was a popular issue. Nikitas Kaklamanis, head of the «Athens, City of Our Life» ticket, said this environmentally friendly construction method should be encouraged, as did PASOK candidate Costas Skandalidis, who suggested a study be conducted in cooperation with Athens University. He said that although he was in favor of limiting building heights in Athens, this could only be done if it did not affect building owners’ rights. Skandalidis did not see the need to expropriate property for public use, saying that the land already available had been shown to be sufficient. In detailed responses to the questionnaire, Alexis Tsipras, of the Open City ticket, suggested that before calling for more land to be expropriated, efforts should be made to «resist the commercialization and reduction of existing small and large open and green spaces such as the old airport at Hellenikon, the 2.5-hectare Goudi park, Elaionas, Zappeion, Aghios Athanassios in Kypseli and the Serafeio swimming pool at Rouf.» Pireaus Athens may already have large parks such as the National Gardens, Pedion tou Areos, Lycabettus, Philopappou and other hills that have escaped the bulldozer, but the same cannot be said of Piraeus. Theodoros Dritsas’s policy for the environment of the port and its surrounding districts, sections of which are still burdened with factories, is titled «Three Parks for Piraeus» (taking in the seafront from the naval officers’ academy at Palataki to Kastella, parts of the area from Pireos Street to the Kifissos delta, and a «Train Park» from Aghios Dionysios to the Levkas district). It focuses on radically upgrading and unifying these areas and creating more such zones throughout the city. He does not suggest expropriating private land apart from the old 5-hectare Chropei factory premise. His proposal also includes the restoration of old refugee housing in Palaia Kokkinia. Dritsas’s ticket is titled «On the Waterfront,» after the film by Elia Kazan. Dritsas told Kathimerini English Edition that he and his associates chose this title when they established themselves in 1998, a time when problems in the port were particularly acute. «We had all seen that film when we were young and so it was part of our ‘baggage,’» said Dritsas. It is Dritsas’s third attempt to take city hall. In 2002 he was elected municipal councilor on the opposition ticket and made his presence felt in local disputes, particularly regarding claims of land-use violations. A spokesman for Mayor Christos Agrapidis (Piraeus Hour), told Kathimerini English Edition that if re-elected, Agrapidis proposes to continue planting trees, building more parks and cleaning up existing ones, to take over abandoned buildings and plots of land for public use, to expand the recycling program to cover the entire city and to increase road-sweeping work. He also plans to put an emphasis on environmental education in schools with talks, seminars and excursions, to carry out an information campaign on renewable sources of energy, and to continue with sampling water quality along the Piraeus coast that has shown an infinitesimal level of microorganisms. According to Panayiotis Fassoulas’s website, his ticket promises «large parks,» «more greenery and even more flowers,» the use of modern technology in garbage collection and management and a cleaning task force to move in where necessary to clean up specific areas. The website of Nikos Legakis’s Municipal Autonomous Movement of Piraeus includes several proposals to expropriate areas such as the square at the corner of Moutsopoulou and Falirou, the Nikoletopoulos and Sarantopoulos mills, as well as the recruitment of guards and cleaners for squares and parks.