Save what is left of the Kifissias greenbelt

Looking at the beleaguered plain of Attica from the air, one realizes that it is divided by two north-south lines: one from Maroussi, along Kifissias Avenue to the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Church of Aghia Foteini, along the course of the ancient riverbed of the Ilissos River. The second stretches from the foothills of Mt Parnitha to the coast at Neo Faliron. If one compares aerial photographs of today with those of one or two decades ago (of which the Public Works Ministry has a number), one observes that these two lines become more distinct as one goes back in time. These two major arteries are the focus of a major ecological disaster, judging from the letters of protests sent to Kathimerini, and one presumes, to the other newspapers. Greek television, state and private, does not concern itself with these issues. In fact the state media, which show wonderful foreign documentaries about ecological disasters in other, exotic lands, persists in ignoring what is happening not far from its headquarters in Aghia Paraskevi, northern Athens. One also notices that damage to the first-mentioned area is meeting with more resistance, which is almost non-existent regarding the latter, although that is where the environmental damage has been far more brutal. A search for the causes of what is in effect the corruption of society leads us down difficult pathways, so we will restrict ourselves to the former and more clearly demarcated area to show how this environmental threat has developed, along with the resistance to it. To begin with a brief geographical description of the area, we should probably – arbitrarily – begin with the Syngrou Estate in Maroussi. We could start further north in Kifissia, Ekali and Drosia. The Syngrou Estate extends toward Melissia and toward what was once the pine-covered district of Magoufana, non-existent today both as a forest and as a name. Further south there are still traces of the Paradeisos forest and right opposite, from the former Fix property south of Maroussi and as far as the rocky slopes of Filothei, Palaio Psychico and Galatsi, is where the greatest ecological damage has occurred, where there were once olive groves, pine forests, vineyards and the lignite mines of Kalogreza. Further down Kifissias Avenue, bordered on the west, is the area known as Girokomeio, after the old people’s home sited there, and on the east by the woods around the police academy, the Sotiria Hospital and the former military camp at Goudi. From the Ambelokipi intersection down Alexandras Avenue is the threatened former refugee settlement on the right, with the former municipal hospital, and then at the bottom of the hill, the Pedion tou Areos park. Continuing on from Kifissias Avenue, one passes the garden of the Pasteur Institute, Mavili Square, the Athens Concert Hall and its ersatz park along with what remains of the Eleftheria Park, where the Church of Greece wants to erect a hotel. To the east are the city’s historic hospitals and further east the Aghios Haralambos park and that of the Syngrou Dermatology Hospital. The nearby Hilton Hotel was built over the bed of the Ilissos River, as was Vas. Constantinou Avenue. Opposite is the Rizareio park, the park around the Evangelismos Hospital and controversial War Museum, the Byzantine Museum, the small park of Aghios Georgios and the officers’ club. Further down are the National Gardens and Zappeion Hall, the Panathenaic Stadium (Kallimarmaro), the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Aghia Foteini, at the point where the line meets up with what are to be the unified archaeological sites of the Acropolis, Thiseion and Kerameikos. This environmental battle line has developed over the past two decades, coinciding with the rule of the allegedly «ecologically sensitive» PASOK. The purpose of this commentary is not to make more accusations about what was done in the past and, in most cases, what is impossible to rectify, but to find out how to save what is left and how these islands of green and open spaces can form the nucleus of another concept of housing development and of life within the city. After all, life is not the annual and often obsessive escape from the city and from work. The environmental movement, as expressed in citizens’ protests, has been spasmodic, often contradictory and always of a grumbling nature, without a general concept of the site or of what could be done. Some people are more concerned about the old military camp at Goudi and don’t care so much about its link with the Sotiria Hospital forest. Others care more about the Rizareio School and don’t worry so much about its connection to the neighboring War Museum and Byzantine Museum areas. Others restrict themselves to localized protests about the construction of thoroughfares through their districts that are considered beneficial for the rest of Attica’s population. These characteristics often result in the campaigns conflicting with what other people consider «development,» or improvements to infrastructure in a modern city. Therefore the protests are often ineffective. Nevertheless, aerial photographs show that this line and its tributaries still constitute a distinct unity, and despite the destruction, retains many elements of its previous unity. It is still easy to pinpoint property that is public, semi-public, municipal or owned by foundations. The first and most important thing that could be done is to pass laws to protect these from any intervention by the State or private interests that would further reduce their size. Under these circumstances, improvements to transport or other infrastructure take on a whole different character. A typical example of this conflict of interests is that between the Athens Concert Hall and the Eleftheria Park, stemming from the fact that the park’s boundaries were never considered a given, or inviolable. A tour of the area between the Syngrou Estate at Maroussi to the Temple of Olympian Zeus is enough to convince anyone of the rationale for local protests – the complete abandonment of public or semi-public property. It is hard to believe that this state of affairs is a coincidence, particularly in the area between the Hilton Hotel, the National Gardens and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, where changes have been so persistent and provocative that they can only be deliberate. In recent years there has been much talk of the «unification» of the city’s archaeological sites. Many have questioned it as too expensive or dismissed it as a showpiece. Whatever the case, it is a comprehensive plan for a specific area. The line from the Syngrou Estate to the Temple of Olympian Zeus is in no need of any unification. Its unity with Kifissias and Vassileos Constantinou avenues is evident. What is needed is protection and improvement.

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