A lost opportunity for urban greenery

Athens seems to have missed its big chance to do something about the dire shortage of urban greenery before the Olympic Games. Greenery projects are being implemented at the last minute and are mainly for decoration around the Olympic venues and roadwork; they have very little to do with creating a pleasant, more habitable environment. The general conclusion drawn from speaking to horticulturalists, whether they are involved in the projects or not, is that all the funds available for the preparations for the Games have been spent on sports fields, roads and bridges (as well as having seeped out in other directions) and that very little has gone toward greenery. So Athens continues to have a minimal amount of greenery, just 2.5 square meters per person. The original plan, «2004, Another Attica, Another Athens,» made provision for new green areas in Attica, and for a total of 100 million shrubs, 16.5 million flowering plants, and several million trees. Yet Costas Matsoukas, vice president of the Union of Horticulturalist Contractors, calculates that while 90 percent of the Olympic greenery projects will be implemented, only 10 percent of the other projects for boosting greenery in Attica will come to fruition. A glance around the city and the Olympic installations is revealing. The problem, says the horticulturalists, was linking the greenery projects with the main construction works. In the end, the money went into cement, since as late as last summer many contractors cut back on the cost of greenery in their overall budgets to conceal the fact that they had overshot their budgets. Even the main Olympic venue, the OAKA Stadium, and especially the area directly around it, looks completely bare. Fortunately, work on the rest of the site is going ahead full steam. If the Calatrava roof is installed on time, workers will be planting around the main stadium right up until the first days of the Games. «In normal circumstances,» says Matsoukas, «the greenery work around OAKA would take three to four months’ work; now everything is to be done in July. So instead of the normal planting period, from January to April, most of the Olympic greenery will be planted in July, when the temperatures in Attica are at their highest. In such conditions, plants are like premature babies.» Apart from regular watering, Matsoukas explains, special machinery will be used at night to create artificial rain and ward off heat fatigue. Meanwhile, there is serious concern about what will happen after the Games, as money and water will be needed to maintain the greenery, otherwise all the money spent so far will be lost in three years. Cases where greenery has been subordinated to construction include the Attiki Odos road and at Hellenikon. In the case of the former, the greenery for the new Hymettus ring road has not yet appeared. The aim of integrating the tunnels into the natural surroundings was not achieved and technicians have not ruled out the likelihood of floods causing problems on the slopes. The beautification of Hellenikon, which was added to the work contract, is said to entail planting grass on the rubble that was left after the excavations and which would normally have to be removed was it not included in the beautification project.

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