NEWS

Gray Athens to acquire a touch of color

The self-respect and good taste of its citizens will be what the Environment Ministry and the Municipality of Athens will have to depend on for the sprucing-up of the capital’s buildings. When presenting the program for doing up building facades in Athens and other municipalities that lie athwart Olympic routes on June 30, Public Works, Environment and Planning Minister Vasso Papandreou and Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni expressed the hope that owners of the roughly 1,000 apartment blocks would take advantage of subsidies to add color to the gray urban environment. Subsidies are calculated at 35 to 50 percent of the total cost. For Athens’s central streets, an additional subsidy of about 20 percent will be added, granted by the Athens Municipality. Facades As a result, restoration of the gray or aging buildings is left up to the owners, who will have to do all the work of finding the contractors to carry out renovation. Residents of the Athens municipality are the exception, as it has set up a consortium (with Athens University, the municipality’s development company and the Panhellenic Federation of Real Estate Owners [POMIDA]), which will conduct the technical surveys, relieving owners not only of time-consuming processes but of the accompanying administrative costs (reckoned at 10 percent). The subsidy applies only to selected roads. Other owners can avail themselves of the services of the municipal body «New Image for Athens,» but will have to shoulder the whole financial burden themselves. According to the June 30 announcements by Vasso Papandreou, the program, which began in June, provides for the subsidy of a number of works. Specifically, these include: – Roof repair; – Repair and painting of building facade; – Mending and painting of external window and door frames; – Fixing plaster, varnish, and cornices (for listed buildings); – Repair, smoothing and polishing of marble; – Moving air-conditioning units and satellite dishes elsewhere; – Removal of illegal billboards and professional signboards (regarded as a condition for receiving funding); – Replacement of individual aerials with one main one; – Planting trees and bushes on building premises. Subsidies for each one of these works will cover 35 percent of the cost, rising to 50 percent for listed buildings. Subsidies of 50 percent are also granted for work deemed obligatory for the building to be included in the program, such as the replacement of aerials, which is aimed at slowly reducing the forest of iron sprouting on the roofs of Athens, moving air-conditioners and satellite dishes and the removal of advertising billboards. The process The ministry has made efforts to simplify the procedure for including buildings in the program. Approval of a file by YPEHODE services stands in lieu of a building permit. The first stage requires the submission of a simple application by the owners, with photographs of the building. Once this application is approved, the owners will be asked for a special improvement, renovation or aesthetic upgrading study by a private engineer (paid for out of the owners’ own pockets) or by the Athens Municipality consortium (free), together with samples of the proposed paint colors and a cost estimate. After the second approval, work will have to be completed within five-and-a-half months (and certainly before June 30, 2004). Subsidies will be handed out 30 days before the end of work. Fifteen million euros have been set aside for the program as a whole. In order to avoid making it an ordeal for those who choose to participate in the program, the 46 citizens’ information and service centers in Attica will be available for interested parties to submit their applications. These can also be handed in at the Directorate of Special Works for Upgrading Districts (EEAP) at YPEHODE, the Unification of Archaeological Sites of Athens agency (OAXA) and the Athens Municipality’s «New Image for Athens.» Cooperation In a confirmation that the two sides were cooperating well, the YPEHODE minister congratulated Mayor Dora Bakoyianni for activating the municipal authorities. Papandreou also called on the remaining municipal authorities to «follow its example, providing their own funding for the restoration of building facades in Athens.» She also called on Attica municipalities to mobilize and play their part by cleaning and freeing their pavements of garbage, rubble and parked cars, in addition to doing up building facades, and by tending green areas. But she made a point of demanding they implement the relevant legislation abolishing illegal advertising billboards. For her part, Bakoyianni called on city-dwellers to «give color to Athens,» asking for the active participation of all citizens. But whether the hopes of the two first ladies in Greek politics – that Greece’s capital will get a new face – are fulfilled will only be clear by next June.