The future of Goudi Park is still pending

A large stretch of parkland in the district of Goudi looks like it may become the site of a number of different commercial and entertainment venues, following a recent agreement between the National Defense and Culture ministries that allows for further economic development of the Goudi park, including the use of existing buildings and the construction of new ones. The memorandum makes clear reference to the joint exploitation of the Olympic Center and the Army Park (a former army camp) by a consortium led by Olympic Properties SA. The memorandum was signed on December 1 by National Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos and Alternate Culture Minister Fani Palli-Petralia. As was to be expected, it furthers the idea that public interest and protection of green spaces was the «basis for completing the plan to develop the Goudi site for the benefit of the people, the environment and the Attica basin.» At the same time, it commits the signatories to «protect and highlight the open green spaces in the Goudi Olympic area, unify and landscape new green areas, jointly administer crucial state property assets and undertake initiatives so that other government and local government bodies will be partners in shaping a site for culture, entertainment, walking and sports in the city center.» It concludes that the goal is «to create an oasis for recreation, culture and mass sporting activities.» So far so good; but from that point the memorandum departs from this virtuous theme to say that most of the park will, in fact, be open to development. It consists of: – The Goudi Olympic Center, host to the modern pentathlon and badminton competitions, including an indoor badminton venue, the refurbished equestrian center and two open arenas. – The «old carriage house,» west of the Olympic center, that includes guardhouse and dentistry buildings, among others. – The Army Park, the site of the military bakeries, two buildings used by the Military Archives Service, the latter’s stone administration building, two buildings leased until 2008 to the National Sculpture Museum (or Glyptotheque), a former cellblock, the kindergarten and a cafe. The two ministries clearly state that the heart of the park is to be transformed into a green space as well as a site for «hosting a variety of important cultural events.» A paragraph later, their intentions become clearer – the purpose of the joint collaboration is «the joint planning and development of the abovementioned installations.» In fact, in order to achieve that goal, a consortium is to be set up with the participation of the National Defense Fund (TETHA) and Olympic Properties SA. Experts in the latter company – experienced in the development of state property – are to submit within two months from the signing of the memorandum a «plan for the landscaping and operational management of the entire TETHA site to both ministries.» It is made clear, however, that the armed forces are to retain the use of the «old carriage house» buildings. As for the areas to be open to the public as «green space and recreational areas,» the ministries say they intend to sign contracts with the Environment and Public Works Ministry and the municipalities of Athens and Zografou. The contract will be «oriented toward setting up a metropolitan park» and will specify, among other things, «funding to complete all necessary landscaping.» This agreement however, leaves out two parties – the Environment and Public Order Ministry and the Municipality of Papagou. According to sources at the ministry, it is a political decision. As for Papagou, no mention is made of the entire section of the park on the other side of Katehaki Avenue (alongside the military hospitals). This might not be purely by chance – the officers’ independent housing cooperative had laid claim to a large section of this area, classified as forestland, to set up a housing zone of 50-60 hectares. The area had been included in the town plan but after protests to the Council of State, the country’s highest court, it was classified as destined for reforestation. «That was also the reason that army land grants stopped many years ago,» explained Professor Yiannis Polyzos, who is technical director of the Urban Environment Laboratory that in 1999 completed a survey for the design of a metropolitan park (for the Athens Town Planning Organization). «According to the ‘Averoff’ law (732/1977) which is still in force, the army had to gradually hand over 94.5 hectares on either side of Katehaki to the municipalities of Zografou, Athens and Papagou for parks and recreation areas. The first areas the army granted were used for sporting facilities for the municipalities of Athens and Zografou. However, following the Council of State’s ruling, these were stopped after some half of the originally specified site had been handed over,» said Polyzos. About 50 hectares form the nucleus of the Army Park, entered via Katehaki Avenue. The entire area known today as the Goudi Park was classified in the 1985 Athens Town Plan as a metropolitan green space, incorporated into the Mt Hymettus protection plan Zone B. In the mid-1990s, as the surrounding area had been completely built up, initial ideas were put forward for a metropolitan park on the site. In 1994 then environment and public works minister Costas Laliotis announced the establishment of the «Asclepeio Park» and in the 1994 Athens Town Plan, the National Technical University of Athens was asked to establish a metropolitan park. The design, submitted in 1999, was for the development of 450 hectares, with a nucleus of 96.5 hectares of open space. Present Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias even considered transferring the Panathinaikos soccer stadium there, a plan that was scrapped and, in mid-July of this year, Souflias hastened to add his voice to those of his two predecessors in favor of creating a metropolitan park.