NEWS

Transformation of central city street taking too long

The noise of a pneumatic drill and excavation equipment drown out any conversations taking place these days on Mitropoleos Street, which lies under a pall of dust and exhaust fumes far from the massive Olympic Games project sites, right in the city center. Part of the plan to «give Athens to its pedestrians,» the street’s renovation is forcing shop owners, shoppers and passers-by to move through a landscape resembling a bomb site. One of the sidewalks, along with almost half the road surface between Syntagma Square and Athinas Street, has been excavated under the auspices of the Unification of Athens Archaeological Sites (EAXA). Work began in March, while reconstruction of the sidewalks, which started just a few days ago, is expected to go well over the scheduled deadline set by EAXA for late November, as it is proceeding extremely slowly. Shopkeepers in the area say they are being «isolated and forced into penury» even though they all welcome the refurbishment that in the long term will serve to improve the area in general and their business environment. Nevertheless, despite statements by EAXA officials that work will be completed within the next four months, Mitropoleos Street is likely to spend the Christmas and New Year season as a construction site, as work on the other side of the road is still pending. Above all, the road surface has to be lowered by about 10 centimeters so as to highlight the new sidewalks. By no means a major undertaking, under normal circumstances it should have been completed quickly. However, local residents claim that construction of the new sidewalks has not been consistent. Construction teams are not there every day and, according to the allegations, are often transferred to other sites undertaken by the same firm. As a result, local merchants are seeing the «dream of renovation» become a nightmare. «The benefits of the renovation are being canceled out in effect by the evils of Greek reality,» says Effi Lymberopoulou, who has a jewelry and gift shop on the street. «They have their eggs in too many baskets, with the result that the area is almost impassable. Sales are way down, which is only to be expected and to some extent accepted while the area is being upgraded. However, the street has been dug up since March and some of the contractors are saying they won’t be finished before Christmas.» Apart from local store owners, it is shoppers and other passers-by who have to battle their way through the street and surrounding areas that are suffering. The few square meters of sidewalk still remaining have been taken over by parked motorcycles, as legal parking places are few and far between. Crossings spaced between the fenced-off areas are often occupied by parked cars. So locals as well as tourists have to leap over bridges at their own risk, watching out for passing cars that ignore the red light at the top of the street. Foreigners are getting a taste of a city that has become a construction site and realize why their travel agent warned them against it. Athenians simply experience more of what life is usually like in this city of theirs.