Another Athens in ’04

With the aim of showing «an open Athens, a human Athens, a safe Athens» to 4 billion TV viewers and hundreds of thousands of visitors during next summer’s Olympics, key figures of the government and Athens 2004, the Games organizers, yesterday presented the outlines of the master plan for city operations during the Games. Under the plan, to be in force from August 2 – September 4, Athens will display a very different face from its usual unruly self. Details remain sketchy but it includes strict traffic restrictions, such as special lanes for accredited vehicles; extended shopping hours; ruthlessly enforced parking controls; mass transport running around the clock; and special cards issued to residents around venues. The measures will mainly apply inside the Athens «inner ring,» around venues, in Piraeus, and along the southeast coast. They will also affect the other Olympic cities (Volos, Iraklion, Patras and Thessaloniki, as well as Ancient Olympia), while the Paralympics in September will bring more attenuated restrictions. Stores will be open from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturdays and closed on Sundays. Proprietors will have to resupply from midnight until 7 a.m., when garbage pickup will also take place. Street markets will operate in some modified form. The plan, discussed yesterday at an interministerial meeting chaired by Prime Minister Costas Simitis, emphasizes the city’s open and friendly side while ensuring safe and seamless operations for visitors and the «Olympic Family.» Though billed as a consensual effort between 62 different organizations and 120 municipalities, the plan also envisions a set of teeth via a «strategic center» to monitor goings-on, topped by a government-appointed city manager. This «Olympics czar» will retain sweeping, if temporary, powers to act. The officials insisted that Athenians’ lives will not be disrupted, and urged people to stay in town and participate. Even popular marches will be allowed, in theory, although Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos insisted that the Games «won’t have demonstrations,» perhaps indicating lingering ambiguities or decisions still to be made. So far, the plan relies on a «gentlemen’s agreement,» and may require further legislative action, such as police orders.