Metropolitan park back in finery

Pensioner Giorgos goes to the Pedion tou Areos park that runs alongside much of Alexandras Avenue every day at the same time in order to meet his friends at the gazebo near the entrance, in the shade of a cluster of trees. On a bench across the way, a 4-year-old girl is tugging needily on her mother’s arm. She uses every ruse at her disposal: She cries, begs, cajoles and skulks. If you continue straight up the promenade that leads from the entrance beside the courthouses, a path paved entirely with rough marble cobbles, you reach Protomaya (May 1) Square, a large opening usually frequented by teenagers kicking a ball around. The Pedion tou Areos park, downtown Athens’s largest green space, has been fully revamped, and it has become a sight to behold. What was once an abandoned area with poor lighting, more concrete that greenery and serious security issues that kept city-dwellers away, especially after dark, is now a pleasant, verdant metropolitan park. The park was officially handed over to the public on Tuesday by outgoing Athens-Piraeus Super-Prefect Dina Bei in a ceremony that also transferred the park’s management and administration to the Attica regional authority, following a shake-up of local government that was put into effect under the so-called Kallikratis plan and after local elections in November. However, it will be the task of the City of Athens and its new Mayor Giorgos Kaminis – who was formally sworn in yesterday afternoon – to run the park on a day-to-day basis. At Tuesday’s handing-over ceremony, Bei stressed the importance of the park being maintained systematically. «Beyond the duties of the state, the park will never be as clean and well tended as it should be if the citizens themselves don’t also lend a hand and do their bit,» she said, referring to the problems of litter and vandalism that are the bane of so many public spaces throughout Greece. The area of the park that was subject to renovation, under designs drawn up by architect Alexandros Tombazis, covers approximately 25 hectares. The project included pulling up some 22,650 square meters of concrete that covered the park’s promenades and paths, and replacing it with hard-packed dirt, which allows visitors to stroll around the park or ride their bicycles without while feeling that they have truly left the busy streets of the city. One of the most impressive features of the revamped park is an olive grove that has been planted in the Alexandras Avenue entrance, flanking a statue of the goddess Athena. The main promenade leads off from this point and is decorated with two large water fountains that use recycled water. The vast walkway is also paved with materials such as marble and granite, which do not absorb heat and therefore help keep the park’s overall temperature down, especially in the summer months. Other features at the new and improved Pedion tou Areos include two playgrounds complete with swing sets and jungle gyms, as well as an outdoor exercise area for adults. In terms of greenery, the park was given 1,200 new trees, 7,500 bushes of various species, 2,500 rose bushes and a plethora of other flowering plants. The central idea behind Tombazis’s renovation strategy was to highlight the history of the park, which was once a playground for the Athenian aristocracy, constructed in 1934 in honor of the soldiers who died in the 1821-30 Greek War of Independence. The next step was to create and highlight special features, such as the rose garden, the so-called lake (a very pleasant water feature) and a row of palm trees flanking the marble busts of the heroes of the war. In terms of the park’s security, this has been assigned to a private firm that is assisted by a group of local volunteers.

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