OPINION

Athens’s phantom metropolitan park

Having been discussed to death by politicians, Athens’s Metropolitan Park in Hellenikon is one of the most-publicized phantom «green» project this country has ever seen. Scenarios and proposals have abounded for developing the site of Athens’s old airport. There have been an entire series of suggestions since the idea was first mooted in 1999. The only aspect of the plans that differed was the area to be built upon – ranging from 30 to 100 hectares of space – and the extent of greenery – ranging from 150 to 300 hectares (of the 590 hectares the site covers in total). The largest metropolitan park in Europe, as the plan was dubbed in January 2001 (a couple of months before the old airport’s closure), was promoted by then Prime Minister Costas Simitis who visualized a complex of conference centers, theme parks, sports venues and artificial lakes. This vision subsequently transformed into a dream-like area with cultural centers and idyllic homes next to marinas and hanging gardens, all flanked by conference centers and stores. Before the elections, Hellenikon was always visualized as an oasis of green. Then the doubts began. Why should we build the largest park in Europe in a region that has such an excess of space? It was deemed wise to devote a part of the area for high-yield enterprises with the aim of creating a Green Fund for the creation of small parks in other areas and for the maintenance of Hellenikon. A second round of plans and dreams foresaw a town of 20,000 people with 6,000 homes, enjoying an unimpeded view of the sea, with Monaco-style racing tracks next to luxury hotels and even nightclubs. The government’s vision of a combination of homes, commercial centers and hotels was coming into focus. What about the concrete-park that had been originally envisaged? Even if they gave it to us for free, we wouldn’t want it. Why else would we have ignored a European proposal providing for 85 percent of funding in exchange for a proper park (without concrete)? Evidently we do not want such a park. We have the National Gardens and Pedion tou Areos and that’s evidently enough. We planted 1 million euros’ worth of trees for the Athens 2004 Olympics and have nothing to show for it. It is clear that construction is the be-all and end-all. Now that’s progress. Let not one square meter be left free. Concrete is the answer, not irregularities like parks. Right now an additional 6,700 hectares of public land is under threat of development. This is the underlying logic that prevails in this society. The real crisis is that no one expects anything different.