A signature — please — for revamping an urban site

As the Olympic Games approach, it seems that medium and large projects of urban refurbishment intended to upgrade the image of Athens are either running dangerously late or have been quietly put on hold. To the latter category belongs the reshaping of the area surrounding the Byzantine and Christian Museum into a unique urban park of 7 hectares. The project was to include the finds from the Lyceum of Aristotle at the site on Rigillis Street where a large underground car park is currently being excavated. The new archaeological site is the only part of this ambitious plan that appears to have survived, as construction of a special roof to protect the finds from the weather is now in progress. In its final form, the park was to have extended to the plot of land on the corner of Vassilissis Sofias Avenue and Rizari, where the car park is being built. Most of the surface of the car park has already been covered with soil, and next week the consortium implementing the project will start planting trees. Minister’s signature Everything seems to indicate that the project is under way. It was included in the Third Community Support Framework with a budget of around 8.8 million euros and the study was completed some time ago. So why the delay? Kathimerini asked Byzantine Museum Director Dimitrios Constantios. «In order to forward the study to the Central Archaeological Council (KAS), it must be signed by the culture minister, whose approval we need,» said Constantios, who was unable to explain the government’s tardiness. He has repeatedly spoken to the minister, Evangelos Venizelos, to no avail. Time is running short, although Constantios believes it is still not too late. But does Athens want to receive visitors when a central site is in such a state? Untended, litter-strewn and overgrown with weeds, the area surrounding the museum does no justice to the attempts that have been made to upgrade and modernize the institute. It is not just a matter of aesthetics, as Constantios pointed out: If the study is not implemented, other matters affecting the smooth operation of the museum will remain unresolved. «This project would solve a series of problems,» said Constantios. «There is the old building, the Doukissa tis Plakentias Villa. We’d get a sewer system; the museum would get a rainwater drainage system, and the whole complex would get a fire protection system.» In terms of new infrastructure, the study included provisions for small buildings behind the villa, using one as a cafe and restaurant and the other as a modern sales outlet for the museum. There was also an idea of promoting the outdoor, stone amphitheater as a venue for various cultural activities in the summer. But it is far too early for anything of that sort. Successive postponements have forced the Byzantine Museum’s director to seek alternative solutions so as to avoid making a poor impression next summer. «I am attempting a much smaller project of planting and refurbishment,» said Constantios. Given that the prime minister has announced major projects such as a 400-hectare park at Hellenikon, why can he not implement a far smaller project in the center of Athens, for which, at least, the funding has been secured?