A neighborhood space for relaxation, sports and nature

After years of languishing, a long-forgotten park in the municipality of Agrinion in western Greece will get a long-overdue makeover that will elevate its social, cultural, historical and ecological character. The resurrection of Papastrateiou Park is being taken on by Agrinion municipal officials and a group of scholars from Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University. They are following the example of the northeastern city of Katerini, which, a few years earlier, redeveloped its only recreational park after it had fallen into neglect since the mid-1990s. Agrinion envisions Papastrateiou Park as a communal open space belonging to its citizens and integrated into the town – well lit, safe and free of boundaries and fences. A long history The Agrinion park’s story begins in 1919. That’s when the Papastratos tobacco-manufacturing family bought a large chunk of land on the boundaries of the old city, turning it over the ensuing years into a prototypical park for Agrinion residents. It became the largest public space for relaxation and recreation, covering 5.4 hectares. Today, worn by time, it is about to experience a rebirth. In the next few months, the first phase of redevelopment will begin on Papastrateiou Park in accordance with studies from scholars at the environmental and zoning laboratory of the Architecture Department at Aristotle University. The Municipality of Agrinion requested the studies. «The park represents the principles of a long-gone time,» says the town’s mayor, Thymios Sokos. «It was designed with other data and corresponds with a philosophy of another period and city, because don’t forget that Agrinion used to be much smaller. We want to bring society into contact with the park again, so Papastrateiou can become what our town needs.» The latest drafts for the park’s redesign show its redevelopment is to be implemented in phases. Since the project is part of the Theseus developmental program, it will get a 500,000-euro grant and could be finished as early as sometime in 2006. «Our goal is for the park to become a popular destination, an everyday meeting place for all ages that will respect the populace, the land, the memories and history of the park,» Professor Panos Stathakopoulos told Kathimerini. «Since it is located 700 meters from the central square and town hall, it is hoped that Papastrateiou Park will decongest surrounding neighborhoods and invite people in. We will scrap any remaining structures such as poles, walls and fences and develop a theme connecting nature with culture, education, activity and relaxation.» The Aristotle University scholars gave particular emphasis in the design to adding more natural beauty, such as plants, to the area. They prefer adding plants native to the greater region, the care and spotlighting of the existing vegetation and the addition of 1.2 hectares of saplings to the existing 3 hectares of trees. Organizationally, the new open space will become an axis of movement for visitors. The park’s north and south portions will be connected, as will its east and west parts. Theme gardens such as the «Garden of Memory» – where tobacco, the region’s symbol, will make a prominent appearance – will line the park’s walkways. The theme gardens will relax and orient the visitor. Water resources will also be utilized. There will be a fountain with lights and sculptures as well as a water garden on the eastern side of the park. There are also plans for an amphitheater for 2,500-3,000 people and an exhibition space. Also in the works are constructing underground parking, refurbishing the existing refreshment stand and outdoor movie theater and improving lighting. Says Stathakopoulos: «By using the characteristics of nature – such as color, texture, shape, scents, seasonal changes and movements, water resources and the stimulation of social, cultural and athletic activities – we will give the park another dimension and invite our citizens to form a closer relationship with it.»