Park debate: Losing an opportunity

Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias’s statements concerning the future of Athens’s former international airport at Hellenikon made it only into the fine print of most newspapers. His announcement was followed by the customary reactions from local officials and opposition parties, which are almost always in the same vein: «Why is the government allowing the commercial use of so many hundreds of hectares and limiting the scope of the park?» and so on. The paradox here is that none of these dissenting voices have taken the trouble to discuss the one and only alternative proposal that has ever been tabled in response to the maximalist visions of the previous and current administrations. The proposal made by former minister Stefanos Manos several years ago is well known. He suggested that at least half of the massive expanse of the former airport be given over to construction and that the resulting capital be used to buy up property in congested areas in central Athens (Kypseli, Pangrati, Patissia, Acharnon etc) which can then be turned into parks. Imagine small gardens dotted around the center of the city and the wonderful effect these would have on the quality of life of millions of people. This is a proposal for a different city, one we dare not dream of. «No,» say those opposed to Manos’s plans. They want a metropolitan park at Hellenikon and smaller parks all over Athens. Yet they cannot tell us where the money for such massive interventions will come from. Furthermore, let us not forget that Manos’s plan does not suggest scrapping the idea of a park at Hellenikon altogether. Even with the proposed construction we would still end up with a seaside park about the size of London’s Hyde Park. Not bad. Anyway, what good is a park twice the size of Hyde Park rather than one that is equal in size and complemented by a number of smaller ones in different locations? One would think that Manos’s proposal would have earned the full support of the left. Hellenikon, Kalamaki and Glyfada, which would benefit from the super-sized park, are already upmarket areas, whereas the areas where Manos suggests smaller parks should be constructed are decidedly less wealthy. Yet, the parties of the left will hear nothing of it, and PASOK just toes the line, missing a prime opportunity to exercise strong, radical opposition. The sad truth is that such opportunities do not present themselves very often. So, in such a rash and unthinking manner, we will just abandon a city and its citizens, simply so we can boast of having the «biggest park in Europe.»