Is a greener Athens finally in the pipeline? Redesignation of properties offers new hope

Way back in 1937, a 200-square-meter property in Patissia was first set aside for expropriation. Some 68 years on, during which it was repeatedly declared expropriable, the property has still not been expropriated – and, of course, it still awaits fulfillment of long-dormant plans to convert it into green space. This is just one of 20 sites in the capital area that were reserved for communal use or squares from the 1930s to the 1970s. Today, 63 unbuilt areas, 123,000 square meters in total within the city of Athens, were designated as communal spaces from 1937 to 2003. That, however, does not mean that they will be converted into green spaces and squares anytime soon, despite assertions that after so many years, the expropriation procedure may finally be completed. The expropriation of these areas naturally requires tens of millions of euros, which is why procedures have stalled. Both the city, which has been deprived of precious green areas, and the owners of the properties, who were neither able to exploit the land nor gain compensation for it, have suffered. Far from being confined to the city of Athens, this is a widespread problem in urban areas, into which the Greek Ombudsman has initiated an investigation and is soon to issue a report on, which is expected to include proposals for changes in the expropriation procedure. However, the fact that dozens of areas have retained the designation of green spaces for decades is due to the huge lack of greenery in the capital as a whole and to the municipal services, which have taken good care, every 18 months, to redesignate the sites as expropriable. (If expropriation is not carried out within 18 months, the site loses that designation.) But Deputy Mayor Chronis Akritidis told Kathimerini that for economic reasons, or because the site is no longer suitable, some may be allowed to drop off the expropriable properties list. Whatever the case, as a rule the sites will be exploited. The municipal council has approved a three-year program of expropriation and refurbishment that is set to cost 40 million euros. To expropriate all 63 properties would cost 80 million euros, by conservative estimates. The sites lie in all the seven wards of Athens and range from 100 to 9,000 square meters in size, with most (18) to be found in the fifth ward (Patissia, Rizoupoli, Aghios Eleftherios). Next is the fourth ward (Sepolia, Kolonos, Plato’s Academy) with 12 expanses. Both these wards have the smallest percentage of greenery in the municipality. The first and third wards, with the smallest number of expropriable properties (three and four respectively) are areas that include Lycabettus Hill, the Votanikos gardens and the Syngrou woods. Most sites were made over for expropriation during the 1980s (25 properties in total) while since 2000, only two properties have been designated as expropriable. Apart from the property that was designated expropriable in 1937, another five areas have been in limbo since the 1950s, and four others since the 1960s.