After Panepistimiou Street

After Panepistimiou Street

I have observed the following: After the fiasco of the redevelopment of Panepistimiou Street in central Athens – the so-called Grand Walk – any project announced by the Municipality of Athens stumbles upon the suspicion of a portion of citizens regardless of their political leanings.

The other day, an unsuspecting social media user had uploaded photos of the reconstruction of the popular pedestrian strip of Korai on Facebook, sparking a storm of protests. Comments ranged from “what was wrong with Korai? It was fine,” and “There goes Korai too,” to “This guy [Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis] will leave nothing standing,” and so on.

The street, which has been pedestrianized for decades, is located between two other very important thoroughfares, Panepistimiou and Stadiou, in the middle of the visual axis that connects the Athenian Trilogy with Klathmonos Square. That is, it is not some random street. It has been looking terrible for several years. As it is located opposite the Propylaia, it is often the scene of violent clashes with the police, as concrete and marble slabs or anything else that can serve as munition by urban revolutionaries are smashed and used accordingly.

Korai Street was certainly in need of a revamp. And if there is one thing for which the municipality should be checked, it is not the expediency of its initiative but the quality of the architectural design it chooses. What we often forget in Greece is that even “decorative” elements of urban equipment, such as a humble public trashcan or a light pole, should be designed by good architects. These issues have been resolved in the small and large capitals of Europe.

The second regeneration project that has met with suspicion on social media is the planned reconstruction of the lower part of popular Ermou Street, from Kapnikarea to the district of Thisseio. We are talking, basically, about the only part of the well-known commercial street that has remained open to traffic. Anyone who has walked even once from Monastiraki to Agion Asomaton Square through Ermou knows very well that this is one of the most unpleasant Athenian experiences. Terrible traffic, cracked sidewalks, stench, awful graffiti. It is obvious that this particular redevelopment was needed a long time ago, not today. Here too, fortunately, it appears that a recognized architectural firm which pays attention to the details we mentioned above has taken up the project.

In other words: Let the failures at Panepistimiou Street be a guide to improve, not to get stuck in inaction.

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