As the Elliniko development on Athens’ southern coast gets on the road toward its implementation and more and more details come to light, the magnitude of this colossal endeavor is starting to become apparent. What it entails, in fact, is the construction on the plot of the old airport of a brand-new city, twice the size of the Principality of Monaco, covering an area of 2.7 million square meters.
You don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty to understand the cumulative impact on the Greek economy of what will possibly be the biggest urban development project in Europe.
For most Greeks, the news of the recent signing of the implementation agreement brought a sigh of relief. Finally, a vast expanse of land that has lain abandoned and unused since the 2004 Olympic Games, in one of the most privileged locations in the Greek capital, is being turned into an engine of growth, both for Attica and the country as a whole. At first glance, everything looks promising: massive economic benefits, hand-in-hand with a positive environmental impact, as the plot will also host the biggest metropolitan park in the country. But is it as rosy as it first appears?
If the focus of international investors turns to Elliniko, isn’t there a risk of interest in central Athens diminishing? If we suppose that the funds earmarked for investment in a specific country or metropolitan area are finite, is it possible that the Elliniko development will absorb millions of euros year after year, leaving Athens looking like the poor relative at the investment party? Could what we dreamed of with such certainty – that Athens would finally embrace its coastal zone – turn into an economic nightmare for the city center?
In theory at least, the capital being attracted by Elliniko right now is unlikely to have ever been destined for areas inside the boundaries of the City of Athens. In that regard, Elliniko is not taking away money that would otherwise go into the city center. That, however, is only half the truth, because the development will gradually acquire massive economic, social and tourism momentum that will inevitably draw indirect investments away from Athens.
This may not be such a bad thing, correcting distortions like paying 400 euros rent for a basement apartment in Pangrati. But in strictly economic terms, we may see a race unlike anything we’ve seen before and Athens needs to be in form to hold onto the gains it has made so far.