Powerful interests eyeing sizable chunks of Athens’s green spaces, despite lack of open areas in capital

Greek political parties’ view of soccer clubs as pools of potential voters and the government’s runaway ambition, following the Olympics, to host the European soccer championships in 2012, have turned soccer grounds, as never before, into a central policy issue. Despite the abundance of concrete overwhelming Attica’s soil and the fact that Athens has the least amount of green space per head of all European cities, governments and local authorities have fallen over themselves to gratify the sporting and investment schemes of soccer firms. The arrangement by which Karaiskaki Stadium (newly refurbished for the Olympics) was leased to Olympiakos soccer club provides the pretext for restoring equality between the big soccer clubs. The AEK club became embroiled in a bitter battle with the residents of Nea Philadelphia, who objected to the construction of a commercial and sports center in the Nea Philadelphia park. And soccer club PAO’s search for a new stadium hangs like a shadow over the last few green spaces within the city limits. In mid-December, the leadership of the Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) – widely reputed to be PAO sympathizers – proposed the parks of Goudi and Hellenikon to the PAO heads as possible sites for a future stadium. Gently, they hinted that due to «legal complications,» Hellenikon might be the best solution. And while everyone was waiting for Panathinaikos’s answer – whether to plump for Hellenikon or start the inevitable legal battle over the Goudi site – Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis waded in with her own proposal for yet another prospective site for the 35,000-seat soccer stadium (with requirements for the upkeep of commercial areas). Sources in the sports club’s administration told Kathimerini that the City of Athens proposed a a 10-hectare site at Votanikos, in an area bounded by the Iera Odos, Athinon Avenue and Ag. Annis. The expanse partly overlaps or is contiguous with the former Agricultural School and lies only a few thousand meters away from Omonia Square. Although Panathinaikos did not want to make any official comment, sources say that the offer is under serious consideration. The Athens mayor is believed to be strengthening her hand against YPEHODE Minister Giorgos Souflias, continuing the covert warfare between the two sides. PAO’s final decision (the matter is being exclusively handled by PAO club owner Yiannis Vardinoyiannis) is expected soon. But any answer is expected to give rise to new conflict. Panathinaikos has stressed that whatever site it finally opts for, it will give in exchange its old Alexandras Avenue site in the city center. The creation of a green space there will yield multiple benefits to the densely built-up center. The Greek State’s vacillating stance confirms that cities’ open areas are seen chiefly as places to put buildings that fit nowhere else (e.g. Olympic sports venues) and as prime real estate rather than as areas that with care might provide a living alternative to the serried ranks of gray concrete apartment blocks – as the cases of Hellenikon and Goudi Metropolitan Park go to show.

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