More green areas are in the works as old plans get new life

The days of former Environment Minister Costas Laliotis’s grand schemes seem to have given way to the more technocratic and smaller-scale, but much more practicable, schemes of his successor, Vasso Papandreou. Papandreou recently announced 96 refurbishment projects that are to be completed by spring 2004. Some of them recall long-awaited, long-suffering projects originally proclaimed in the early and mid-1990s. Among them are the improvement of Pireos Street, announced by the previous minister in 1995; the recovery and improvement of the seafront from Faliron to Vouliagmeni, which has also been under discussion for five years; and the unification of green spaces, a cultural and public area in Goudi, which is strongly reminiscent of the plan for a metropolitan recreational park and green area promised in the mid-1990s. Are these three miracles? How is it that projects delayed for years on end for various reasons can suddenly be implemented now, without any discussion or problems, and within 18 months? The ministry appears to have found a convenient solution. In order to get something done in time for the Olympic Games, it is taking shortcuts by going ahead with many minor works, chiefly cosmetic in nature, which are more likely to be completed within a short time. So the major projects for improvement – which Laliotis airily promised – won’t now be done, but some steps will nonetheless be taken by 2004. Let’s hope this first step won’t be a reason to forget the rest. Pireos Street In March 1995 the newspapers reported «a 10-billion-drachma facelift for Pireos,» which Laliotis promised would be ready by 2000. Work was to be done at nine points, including Koumoundourou Square, Kerameikos and the Tavros slaughterhouse. This was set out in a law whose drafting began at the time, given that they involved land-use and town-planning interventions. Two years later, the newspapers once again reported «10 billion drachmas to spruce up Pireos.» On December 2, 1997, Laliotis announced the project yet again. Since then the works on Pireos have degenerated into something like a soap opera. They have been repeatedly announced and included in various packages; the law has come and gone many times until it has reached a form agreed upon by the six municipalities concerned, but still without change. Meanwhile the ministry is proceeding with a smaller project, in case the more ambitious bill makes no progress and basic work doesn’t get done. «Pireos is a special case,» Yiannis Polyzos, head of architecture at the National Technical University, told Kathimerini. «It is a street with a long history and the refurbishment must be in line with preserving its special identity. This can only be done overall by designating land use. The law which was proposed years ago has still not been signed. As time goes by and land use is not designated, market processes will ensure that large spaces in the area are taken up in ways unsuitable to Pireos Street’s old character. This ‘light’ intervention being planned now in view of the Olympic Games is not going to save Pireos from becoming like all the other major arteries, but it is at least a step.» Seafront and Goudi The recovery and refurbishment of the seafront from Faliron to Vouliagmeni is having a similar fate. The organization that reviews the Athens city plan has spent more than five years studying the draft bill, which will establish land use and provide protection for parts of the area. Yet the law has not been signed because the Environment Ministry has repeatedly returned it to the Athens organization for correction. Currently it is back at the ministry, awaiting approval. Meanwhile, another study for pre-Olympics refurbishment is being prepared by the ministry’s Directorate for Special Improvement Projects (DEEAP) to allow more superficial improvement of the area, presumably in case the law doesn’t get passed in time. As this study is still incomplete, its provisions remain unclear. The grand scheme for a culture and recreation park in Goudi is similar to the 96 Olympics-related works. First aired in 1994, the project has never been started, delayed by competing claims on parts of the 250 hectares needed by an Athens football team, army units, new hospitals and, recently, Olympics installations. While still unclear, the scheme is said to be more practicable, although DEEAP officials say it will not be completed by 2004 because it entails expropriations that will take longer than that.