A moment to re-think Athens

A new urban development project for central Athens is fuelling hopes that some of the most neglected parts of the capital will be rejuvinated.

During an event held yesterday at the Onassis Cultural Center on Syngrou Avenue, the Onassis Foundation announced the launch of a European architectural competition for the project, dubbed «Re-think Athens.»

Speaking at the event, Prime Minister Lucas Papademos hailed the initiative, saying it will be crucial for improving the standard of living for residents and visitors of the capital.

«We owe this to the citizens of Athens who have seen their quality of life decline month after month, year after year,» Papademos said.

«It will put Athens where it belongs, which is among Europe’s historic cities,» he said of the project, which will be bankrolled with European Union funds.

The «Re-think Athens» project is centered on Panepistimiou Street, one of the capital’s main thoroughfares, connecting Syntagma Square in front of Parliament to the scruffy Omonia Square. Rich in cultural heritage, but also key to the city’s commercial life, Panepistimiou is set to be transformed into a car-free zone with a tram line and bicycle paths.

One of the objectives is to ultimately link two of Greece’s most important cultural institutions, the new Acropolis Museum on the popular Dionysiou Areopagitou promenade, with the National Archaeological Museum in the rundown area off Patission Street.

Hit by the country’s economic malaise, Athens has struggled with soaring crime, prostitution and drug trafficking. Repeated pledges to remedy the situation have failed to deliver.

Moreover, recurring anti-austerity strikes, protests and riots have also damaged the city’s appeal as a tourism destination, with arrivals in Athens in the January-February period showing a 10.7 percent annual decline.

«If we don’t tackle the security problem in the center of Athens, any other effort will be undermined,» Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis said, calling for measures to clamp down on illegal immigration.

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