Battle lines are being drawn over designs for the main city squares

Just over a year before the opening of the Olympic Games, the refurbishment of Athens’s major squares is still pending. The bad beginning made with Omonia Square has naturally made people skeptical about the fate of Syntagma, Monastiraki and Koumoudourou squares. In the latter, work began in spring and is proceeding without delay, providing a note of optimism in what is otherwise a worrying situation. In fall the first bulldozers are expected to arrive in Syntagma and Monastiraki and there is a chance that they could also be moving back into Omonia Square. Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni took the initiative of inviting the designers of Omonia Square to discuss improvements to the project, but according to sources, the revised design has not been approved by the office of Environment and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou. If the revised design, which provides for some greenery, is rejected, the situation could come to a head. Meanwhile, anything is possible, even a suggestion that the entire surface of the square be replaced. The mood at a meeting between Vasso Papandreou, Yiannis Kalantidis, who is president of the Unification of Athens Archaeological Sites (EAXA), and the four designers was anything but positive and did not augur well for reaching a consensus. Work on revamping central Syntagma Square begins in September, and the hope is that it will not have the same fate as Omonia. There is not much chance of that as there is more urgency; time is fast running out. Initial indications are that the lesson has been learned, as large trees are to be planted in the lower part of the square, across Ermou Street. The road surface between the square and Ermou is to be reduced from seven to three lanes and Othonos Street is to be reopened to traffic, with one 3.5-meter-wide lane going from Filellinon to Vas. Amalias Avenue. The goal is to reduce traffic in Syntagma to ease pedestrian traffic from the square to the Ermou Street pedestrian zone. All public transport terminals, transfer points and stops as well as taxi ranks are to be gathered in one place. The design, by architects Dimitris Manikas and Theodora Papadimitriou, also provides for the absorption of sound with fabric surfaces on surrounding walls and vegetation. Ground surfaces are to be covered with non-slip marble. Clouds over Monastiraki The situation regarding Monastiraki is not as simple. Officially, work is set to begin in November, but there is still much to be decided, such as what surface to use. The Central Archaeological Council (KAS) disagreed with the original proposal and the designers have submitted a number of alternatives, none of which have been accepted by EAXA. Delays in the Monastiraki project have been dragging on for three years; whatever surface is finally chosen has also to be approved by KAS. Three of the designers have sued EAXA and Attiko Metro over copyright issues. EAXA is calling for withdrawal of the suit (scheduled to be tried in July 2004) on the basis that recourse to justice does nothing to further a climate of cooperation. Fortunately, work in Koumoundourou Square is progressing smoothly and should be completed by Christmas. Progress is also being made in revamping the facades of the buildings surrounding the square.