Special interests may wipe out the city’s green areas

Fearing further loss of Athens’s remaining open spaces, demonstrators gathered at the Military Park at Goudi on Saturday, World Environment Day, to protest at proposals to build a soccer stadium there for sports club Panathinaikos. Representatives of the organizers, the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and Cultural Heritage, the Coordinating Committee of Groups for the Protection of Athens’s Open Spaces and Quality of Life and the Goudi Park Action Committee, together with local people gathered at 7 p.m. outside the park gates on Kanellopoulou (Katehaki) Avenue to voice their opposition. Also present was Vassileios Xydis, mayor of the adjacent municipality of Papagou. Demonstrators denounced inroads into the capital’s hitherto unbuilt areas due to the Olympic Games and other public works as a «plundering raid.» The park in Goudi, together with the old airport at Hellenikon, was earmarked as a metropolitan park under an ambitious scheme formulated by the Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) in 1994 for a network of unified green areas across the city. But Panathinaikos has long angled for a stadium in the area. In April, it submitted a written request to YPEHODE Minister Giorgos Souflias for 7.5 hectares in the park. At Saturday’s demonstration, Papagou municipal councilor and Action Committee member Theano Agathaki said access roads and car parks could gobble up a further 20 to 25 hectares of land. And she said installations could extend right up to the first line of houses in Papagou and behind the Sotiria hospital. The park is already an Olympic venue for the modern pentathlon and badminton. Panathinaikos has asked for the «temporary» badminton facilities to serve the needs of its basketball and volleyball teams. Yet the 1994 Attiki SOS project provided for «restricted cultural, athletic and recreational uses» in the 400-hectare park. And the relevant study by the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) for a metropolitan park at Goudi made no mention at all of a football stadium. (Demonstrators on Saturday called for the NTUA preliminary study to be approved as the final one.) Undeterred, the wealthy sports club has lobbied hard for a new stadium, and former Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos proposed the park site, despite a suggestion to hand over the Olympic Stadium at Kalogreza to Panathinaikos. Ten years on, the Attiki SOS project seems to be in shambles as successive Greek governments try to balance the needs of citizens against special interests and land speculators. A covetous eye has also been cast on Panathinaikos’s old quarters on Alexandras Avenue, lying on land owned by the Athens Municipality. Archbishop Christodoulos wants to build a new cathedral on the site – which had also been mooted as a park.