Many wonder whether all the new investments in downtown Athens’ Omonia Square – those that have been completed and those yet to come – will have a beneficial impact on the area as a whole. Whether, in short, they will live up to expectations. We certainly hope so, even though the issues bedeviling Omonia are complex, fluid, unpredictable and hard to control.
It is already obvious that a few beautiful new hotels are not enough, and neither is the introduction of new functions in the urban fabric, if the denizens who have become accustomed to a certain reality do not want to cooperate. When the status quo is threatened, what you need is a policy of convergence.
Omonia and its surroundings – and especially the bottom part of Stadiou, Agiou Konstantinou, Tritis Septemvriou and Patission – are long overdue for a boost from some beneficial investments by business groups and individuals. Yet even though quite a few of the new hotels have already opened their doors, citizens are not feeling the impact of their operation on the quality of the streets, the sidewalks and day-to-day life. What they see instead is dejection and resignation.
At the very best, they see a lack of real effort. Sure, citizens themselves are often to blame for the poor state of parts of our city, but on a broader level there is obviously a remarkable lack of vision. The area’s profound social problems, the drugs, the illicit trade in goods, the petty crime and delinquency are there every single day, serving as a reminder that cities only change when their citizens can walk in their streets happily.
It goes without saying that such problems cannot be solved with sweeps carried out by the police every so often, but require meaningful social policies and reforms. Some excellent progress has been made with regard to downtown Athens’ homeless population, but much more is needed to turn the area’s image around.
Take Kotzia Square, across from City Hall, for example. All potholes and cracks and almost entirely without shade, it is obviously suffering from a lack of planning and a modicum of good taste. The corner of Aeolou and Stadiou streets is a stark reminder that the laws don’t always work for the city. Not to mention the terrible state of the sidewalks.
Omonia has vast potential; it is oozing with history and prospects. But we should not be waiting for all those welcome investors to point it out. Greece has a government, a local authority, private initiatives and a civil society – it also has youth. The city’s future is an issue that affects future generations and it is for them that we must do the work today, giving them tangible changes instead of words and hot air. Omonia is the city’s big challenge.