The future seems bleak for Lavrion

Lavrion has a cultural identity that includes monuments of every kind, and exceptional physical beauty (dramatic landscape and wooded areas bordered by the sea). It is also being abandoned as agricultural land loses its value in the face of the rapid expansion of residential areas and a vacuum in production. According to Professor Costis Hadzimichalis of Harokopeion University’s Artemis program team, «Lavrion is a town ravaged by unemployment and has undergone radical industrial restructuring in the past 15 years. Consequently, its upgrading into Attica’s second port is not automatically a bad thing, but neither is it something that the area will automatically be able to cope with. Planning is needed: Urban and rural planning schemes should precede the works that have been planned for the area; for the new road which will connect the Mesogeia area to the new harbor of Lavrion, the mooted fuel storage tanks, the industrial zone, new activities and the expansion of residential areas. Not surprisingly, there is a lot of pressure to change the protected status (of certain areas).» The Mesogeia area is a bitter lesson in the consequences of insufficient planning and lack of control over changes. «The Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE), the municipalities, and the local communities do not seem to want radical changes to destructive models of land exploitation. It is therefore quite possible that this study is the last record of the Lavrion landscape before it is completely transformed,» said Hadzimichalis. But there is still time left. The intense pressure on Lavrion has not yet made itself felt as the urban sprawl of Athens spreads toward Mesogeia. «This study has put a tool into our hands that lets us proceed with properly planned development and avoid the pressures that will destroy the last unbuilt area of Attica, which is also very important historically,» said Hadzimichalis. Residential zone Noticeable changes have already taken place. According to the study, «the increased demand for seaside holiday homes by the city’s inhabitants and for tourist facilities have led to changes in land use. Agricultural land has been abandoned and built on, quite a few forested areas have lost that characteristic or have fallen victim to illegal construction. The rapid encroachment of holiday home settlements on tracts of agricultural land has resulted in the merging of distinct settlements into one contiguous, homogeneous, built-up coastline.» Construction is rampant next to the sea, regardless of slopes and soil composition, while the Lavrion hinterland is being abandoned, especially in hilly areas. The Greek research team recorded all the data on the Lavrion area in a huge electronic data bank (with information on subsoil, rock formations, land use, plant and tree cover, planning regulations, protection status of certain areas, winds, climate, land purchases outside the urban zone by building collectives and private individuals, population density, occupations, movements of people, types of enterprises and scenery) so that it can accurately depict all the geographical, social and economic characteristics of every part of the area. A comparison of crucial statistics enabled the team to formulate scenarios regarding: (1) Where the next fires are to be expected at Lavrion; (2) land prices in the area; and (3) future changes in the Lavrion landscape. Lavrion is a typical example of a Greek landscape; an alternation of smaller and larger units; everything matters, from the neighbor’s fence to the smokestack of the French company to the island of Makronisos’s long silhouette. The hills, a changing horizon that is ever present when driving along the roads in a car, and the sudden irruption of islands and capes combine to make the landscape a breathtaking one, in spite of the rapid urban sprawl. To protect it from development, Greek researchers have forged a tool to evaluate potential proposals by investors. «For instance, supposing a large tourist organization arrives and wants to build a large facility outside Thorikos,» said the researchers’ head, Costis Hadzimichalis. «The local community needs the investment and rarely resists. We cannot be dogmatically negative about such proposals, but we can evaluate them in terms of the landscape and tell the local community how they will affect the environment.» Factors affecting the environment would include the height of the buildings and facilities, car and pedestrian access, the amount of water needed (e.g., for swimming pools or golf courses), water sources, waste management and jobs for inhabitants of the area.

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