Hard times for unification of ancient sites

On New Year’s Eve, a huge banner unfolded to cover one side of the ruined Fix building on Syngrou Avenue. Right at the bottom was the logo of EAXA, the company that has undertaken the task of unifying the archaological sites of Athens. It seemed like a joke. The year 2005 – during which EAXA’s presence had been discreet to the point of being misunderstood – ended with the forgotten symbol of the company that had carried out the largest town-planning project prior to the Olympic Games. It is glaringly obvious that EAXA has been put out to pasture. Nobody expected it to work at the same pace after 2004. But the difference between then and now is huge. And it is hard to understand the unwillingness of EAXA President Kyriakos Griveas even to call a press conference. He fends off criticism. «In 2005 we demolished the so-called Korean market. And in my view that was the greatest town-planning project in Athens since the war.» Does the demolition of the Korean market, an unpaid bill from a bygone time, justify the existence of a state organization? Griveas blames the present state of affairs on bad public finances. However, matters are less dramatic than one might expect. During its heyday, in the runup to 2004, EAXA received annual funding averaging 15 million euros; now it gets around 10 million. That is not a lot, but it is not chicken feed either. According to Griveas, the 2005 budget went almost entirely on the market demolition (8 million euros). The rest paid for pedestrianizing two small streets (Romvis and Ktena) and other minor projects. This year’s program looks more ambitious, though past experience is not encouraging. First, the site of the Korean market is to be made into a green area, but only temporarily. EAXA is responsible for the dismal appearance of Monastiraki Square, which was part of the notorious «package deal» of four city squares, only one of which (Koumoundourou) was completed according to the original design. Omonia Square was an outright failure. Syntagma Square is half-complete (the side facing Ermou remains a disgraceful mess). And nothing has been done in Monastiraki Square, largely because of the Central Archaeological Council (KAS), which rejected the design that won the architectural competition. But now that KAS has changed its mind, EAXA has no money. That is the bad news. The good news is that in the coming weeks the architects will submit the final design. As for the other unresolved problem from the past – making Vassilissis Olgas Avenue into a pedestrian walkway – the tram route got EAXA out of its predicament as pedestrianization has been postponed indefinitely. EAXA has to function at a difficult time. It is the government that must decide whether to support it or quietly allow it to die a lingering death.

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