Green spaces at a premium around capital

Athenians covet every centimeter of the little green space in their city, which amounts to 2.5 square meters for every resident, the lowest ratio in the world. In this city, green spaces are regarded without any strategy or comprehensive plan, only as a decoration and often simply as an election campaign tactic. «The State and mayors often treat green spaces as a secondary issue and rarely include them in their priorities,» officials at Attica’s municipal parks department told Kathimerini. Very few funds and staff are allotted for the purpose. Nor are there any geotechnical services that could provide a comprehensive plan. Of the 1,000 workers and gardeners employed by the Athens municipal parks department in 1990, when there were fewer parks than there are now, only 250 are still active, according to its director, Dimitris Papadimas. «Our service has an excess of scientific personnel who are usually underemployed, as there are not enough workers to implement their plans. For example, since 1986 our department has had organic recycling equipment rusting in its sheds as there are not enough people to operate it,» he said. Pireaus is also facing a staff shortage. In 1986 there were 75 employees, Deputy Mayor Theodoris Argoudelis told Kathimerini. Most of these people are getting on in years as no new staff have been hired. A similar situation exists in Zografou. «Since 1992, we have been begging for permanent staff,» said department head G. Mitroutsikos, «but no approval has been forthcoming. So we can only hire seasonal workers for eight months of the year. By the time they have learned to do the work, they are off again. Meanwhile, what permanent staff we have, is gradually aging.» Although Athens has a shortage of laborers, other municipalities don’t have enough geotechnical experts. Korydallos, near Piraeus, has three qualified staff members, Perama and Moschato just one each. At Perama and Keratsini, January of this year was the first time a qualified agronomist was hired. «Independent geotechnical services have to be set up in each municipality,» Nikos Kapantais, head of Nikaia’s parks department told Kathimerini. «Mayors often think the question of green space is simple, they don’t take it seriously. That is why, along with the lack of zoning provisions for green spaces, there are so few of these areas and they are just randomly sited. Usually what happens is that any little corner left over is planted with a couple of trees.» «The State has not cared for so long, but now, because of the Olympic Games, a decision has been made to spend a bit of money,» added Papadimas. «But due to the indifference until now, there is not enough infrastructure in place to administer these funds. Proper management of green spaces that would bring real benefits to the city requires serious decisions, a strategic plan and a hierarchy of possibilities, of which there are still plenty in Athens where zoning conditions are negative. Old army camps, school and church properties, abandoned lots could be made use of, as long as the will is there. But we have to work fast.»

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