Goudi park under threat from space seekers

Eleven years have already passed since the creation of a metropolitan park at Goudi was announced. Last week, Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias made yet another commitment to implement the plan. But all plans proposed by the National Technical University (NTU) for a green area remain on paper, while pressure is mounting from various agencies and organizations that are looking for space. The latest development was the decision to make the Olympic Games badminton venue a permanent and privately run installation. The longer the establishment of the park is delayed, the more new needs will emerge – all of them to the detriment of the remaining green area. Cross Katehaki Avenue in mid-summer and you will see no one at the space called a park. There are only soldiers on duty and employees from a private security firm, who are supposed to keep people away from the badminton courts. Just how citizen-friendly can a limited-access park be? The entrance on Messinias Street is closed. The entrance on the Zografou side leads to a car park for the once-temporary, now-guarded badminton venue, where people are interrogated about their reasons for being there. The only entrances that lead to the interior of the park are the big one on Katehaki and, a little further on, the entrance to the ruined army bakery, next to the National Sculpture Gallery. The rest of the roads lead to army, municipal, police, hospital, university and other buildings. An organized park in Goudi is not only a longstanding demand of local residents (who formed the Citizens’ Committee for the Implementation of the Goudi Metropolitan Park) but also a significant environmental issue, as it offers a new lease on life to one of the most rundown areas in Athens. The area was designated a metropolitan green space in 1985 by the revised Athens town plan, and it was included in the Second Hymettus Protection Zone. In 1994, then-environment minister Costas Laliotis announced the creation of the Asclepiou Park, and in 1997 the Athens Town Plan Organization assigned the NTU a study for the creation of a metropolitan park. Professor Yiannis Polyzos, director of NTU’s urban environment laboratory, headed the study. «The study was delivered in 1999 and concerned the use of 450 hectares with a 95-hectare nucleus of unbuilt-up land,» he told Kathimerini. «The study was never adopted.» «On the contrary, in recent years we have seen a new attempt to truncate the space,» Polyzos continued. «The only use that is completely compatible with the area is the transfer of the Sculpture Gallery to two renovated army buildings. Likewise, given the special nature of the project, one cannot say anything about Elpida’s creation of a hospital for children with cancer.» Polyzos said the area is already saturated. Besides the space taken up by the badminton venue, he said that the local horse-riding center has started filling in the Ilissos riverbed. The retention of the 2.35-hectare badminton venue and its conditional use also raises a series of questions. «The courts and the surrounding area are in the very center of the park,» Polyzos said. «The question is then whether the park created for the Olympic Games will be included, if they will control access, and whether the uses will be compatible.» «What could be done is to use the income from renting it for the park. In other words, the badminton venue would fund the maintenance and operation of the metropolitan park, a practical solution that has been applied at smaller places elsewhere in Europe,» he added. Souflias took up the subject again last week, picking up the proposal for the creation of a metropolitan park and expressing his determination to implement it. «Its creation must start at once with joint municipal participation, with at least gradual incorporation of the spaces,» Polyzos said. «Otherwise, there is a risk of further concession to various things the city needs but which are not connected with one another and are alien to the concept of a high-quality ecological space.»

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