For years I looked out of my office window at the view of Faliro Bay and despaired at the pitiful and filthy state of the seafront, wondering: How can we be so incapable of making use of something so wonderful? To my mind at least, it was a blatant example of the huge divide between what we are as a country and what we might be. The same was, of course, the case with the coastal stretch at Elliniko, but also with much of Attica’s seafront.
Something, though, is changing at long last. In 10 years from now it will be hard to recognize the route from the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Neo Faliro to Vouliagmeni, as what might be the best piece of unexploited real estate in Europe as a whole finally gets the treatment it deserves.
Why it took so long remains to be answered. I believe the bulk of the responsibility lies with the Greek state, which has a habit of sabotaging major projects, and certain politicians who preferred to put the issue off for another day. It took more than a decade, after all, to clear the landscape of myriad clientelist-driven obstacles and small but influential vested interests that had put the coastal front into the hands of various well-connected opportunists who were abetted by local authorities.
And as painful as the truth may be, if Greece’s creditors had not insisted on this knot of intertwined interests being severed and if the administration of Antonis Samaras had not pushed forward, we would be waiting another 10 years for anything to happen. The same was the case with the Attica Regional Authority under the previous governor, Rena Dourou, which moved ahead with important infrastructure work.
The present government, meanwhile, has set ambitious targets for the development of Athens’ southern coast and the private sector appears to be taking risks that are already paying off.
Yet as with every major project, caution is imperative. The coast needs to remain open to the people of Attica; it cannot be turned into a gated community reserved only for the rich, as this would cause big – and justified – reactions. Someone also needs to consider how the thousands of new residents in and visitors to the area will be getting around on a road and transport network that is already overstretched.
For the time being, though, let’s stick to the good news. After years and years of inertia, we are finally entering a phase during which Greece is making good use of some of its very important – and not so very well-hidden – treasures. At last.