Back to the beaches

European cities such as Liverpool, Lisbon, Genoa and Antwerp have made managing the seafront a top priority. And the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona were an incentive for that city and its inhabitants to redefine their relationship with the sea. In Athens, sadly, it has been a different story. Missed opportunities have cut the city off even more from the Saronic Gulf. But a new study may mean a reprieve for the seafront, especially the part that has suffered the worst treatment over the past 40 years – the stretch from Flisvos to Faliron that has degenerated into one of the worst trash dumps in Attica. Commissioned by the Athens-Piraeus super-prefecture from the Harbor Projects Laboratory at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), the study includes a plan to revamp the beach by bringing in new sand. «We will try and restore residents’ access to and relationship with the coast by creating an artificial beach on the rundown Faliron shorefront where the Ilissos River empties into the sea. This breakthrough… will be made in collaboration with local administration,» said NTUA rector Constantinos Moutzouris, who heads the Harbor Projects Laboratory. The study has already been submitted to the Economy and Finance Ministry in order to secure funding from the Fourth Community Support Framework. April is World Landscape Architecture Month, celebrating the art or science of urban and environmental planning, of which Athens stands in such need. Until the 1960s, the Gulf of Faliron was a beautiful district, popular for entertainment and walks. The local suburbs began to be cut off from the sea with the construction of the Karaiskaki soccer stadium, the new coastal road, built on embankments, and the Peace and Friendship Stadium. The final blow came with the beach volleyball and tae kwon do stadiums. The suburbs of Kallithea, Moschato and Neo Faliron were hardest hit by the policy of erecting massive cement interchanges that have fenced off the once beautiful coastline from urban space. As local environmental organizations point out, the beach is not only unsuitable for walking and entertainment, but is rife with illegal transactions and represents a serious danger to unsuspecting citizens. There have been attacks, mainly on young women, robberies and beatings by underworld types who frequent the area. «It must be understood that this is not just a local issue but a broader one. It’s not about Moschato, Kallithea and Faliron, but about the whole capital. «Even at the last minute, we must save Athens’s age-old contact with the sea,» said Apostolos Aloniatis, of Kifi-sos, a citizens’ action group, which has been fighting for years to save the beaches of Athens. He sees the NTUA proposal as hopeful for inhabitants of neighboring municipalities.

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