Two Athens areas set to get extensive facelift

The Olympic Games last year helped us all realize very well the massive importance that infrastructure projects have on the property market, and particularly that of housing. Yet besides infrastructure, additional value to properties comes from city facelifts and green spaces, which unfortunately were not seen in Athens despite the original pledges. Barcelona, on the contrary, used the 1992 Olympics as a pretext for a major facelift which changed the city’s profile and restored its relationship with its natural border, the sea. The transformation of Barcelona and the development of its seaside front, which until then only hosted abandoned industrial buildings, was a blessing. A recent Cushman & Wakefield survey which evaluates cities as business centers put Barcelona on top of Europe while Athens dropped to 30th. For us the metro, Attiki Odos and the Hymettus ring road may be novelties and a major progress from the recent past, but obviously the high-level staff of European enterprises polled take them for granted and expect other things as well. In Athens any facelift efforts to date only concerned some fragmentary pedestrianizations and the creation of green spots of limited size, with the sole exception being the unification of archaeological sites. However, the twin facelift at Alexandras Avenue and Votanikos, where the new all-sports ground of Panathinaikos will be constructed, seems to be paving new ways in managing the city’s landscape. Besides the park to be created at the old Panathinaikos grounds at Alexandras Avenue, interest focuses on Votanikos and the fact that an area with antiquated industrial uses is following economic trends and is being transformed into a service center and a green spot. The transformation of Votanikos, an area very close to Athens city center, is actually made without burdening the state budget, but through a public and private sector partnership (PPP). According to City of Athens deputy mayor Theodoros Skylakakis, this area of Athens could in the next 10-20 years emerge as the city’s most important spot. «With plans for 46 percent of green spaces, it can host uses of offices, commerce and other enterprises of the service sector, as has happened in many industrial areas of major European cities that have passed to the post-industrial era,» says Skylakakis, believing that Votanikos can become «the best, in terms of green spaces and environment quality, as well as the most rapidly developing part of the capital.» For the needs of Expo ’98, the international exhibition, Lisbon authorities (with assistance from the Portuguese government) proceeded to the refurbishment of the industrial area of Parque das Nacoes. The refurbished area measured 3.4 square kilometers, almost the same as the former airport at Hellenikon in southern Athens, and had uses similar to those of Drapetsona, the industrial zone in Piraeus. A special state company was established which cleaned the plot, created the essential infrastructure and divided the area into blocks. In order to draw business interest, the plot was sold instead of conceding it for 50 years, and investor response was great. Lisbon thereby obtained a new housing and commercial hub.