SOCIETY

Three revitalizing redevelopments for Athens

The projects, which have been discussed for years but have yet to materialize, will be funded by the EU recovery fund

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The “unification” of Attica’s southern coast from Piraeus to Sounio, with the construction of an uninterrupted pedestrian pathway and, for a large part of the route, a cycling lane; the renovation of the Olympic Athletic Center (OAKA), with the revamping of its buildings and redevelopment of its outdoor areas; sprucing up the grounds and buildings of the former royal estate at Tatoi, while dusting off the heirlooms and creating museums: These are three defining redevelopment projects that are being brought forward by the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED), with funding set to come from the EU recovery fund; three projects that have been discussed for years but have yet to materialize.

The idea is sound. The circumstances, namely the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Fund for Greece, are unique. Even the tight timeframe (works funded in this way must be completed by 2024-25 or they will not receive any payment) is clearly a plus, as it is a rigid goal-oriented incentive. The city-state has grown tired of waiting.

There is however a “but,” or rather, a series of “buts.” Firstly, who is defining the city’s requirements? The case of a recently announced project to move ministries from the center of Athens to the old PYRKAL plant in the Municipality of Ymittos-Dafni is a characteristic example of inverted priorities, whereby real estate ambitions for central Athens are more important than the smooth running of the city.

Secondly, who is designing these projects? The three specific redevelopment projects might be welcome, but everything is being done behind closed doors, without it being clear who is doing what.

The Environment Ministry, in charge of urban planning in Attica, has been relegated to a supporting role, TAIPED is efficient but an example of public sector opacity, and the scientific community has not been invited to participate.

More transparency, participation and inclusivity are required. Here we present new information on the three projects and discuss them with Konstantinos Serraos, a professor of spatial planning and urban development at the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA).

Tatoi as a tourist destination

The Tatoi project envisions the restoration of the palace, other buildings in the royal complex, and its gardens as a historical site open to the public. It also includes restoring and displaying items found around the complex as a museum collection in the renovated buildings, and the digitization of archival material found in the complex. Thus, the public, researchers and institutions will be able to freely access all information.

The proposal accepted by the recovery fund includes five projects. The first will connect the complex with the power and water grids. It will create a wastewater management and biological treatment network, a new water network for public use and for fighting fires, a fiberoptic communications network, a rainwater storage network for irrigation, and parking areas near the entrances to the complex, while it will also include the undergrounding of power lines.

The second project is the restoration of the palace, its grounds, and the stables, and the latter’s redevelopment as museums. The third is the restoration of items found around the complex. The fourth is documenting and cataloguing of said items. Finally, the fifth project is the digitization of all paper archival material. 

The goal is to turn Tatoi into an example of sustainable tourist development in Attica that will draw international visitors. At the same time, it will finally enact the transformation of the central palace into a museum that has been planned for more than a decade. Ensuring the economic sustainability of the venture through cooperation between the private and public sectors is also important.

Among the difficulties faced by the project is the general decrepit state of the complex’s buildings and the existence of many historical items which have suffered serious damage. The project has a general budget of 94.7 million euros, of which the recovery fund will cover €39.9 million. 

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The Riviera

The aim of this project is to create a unified 70-kilometer coastline from Piraeus to Sounio. It has been broken down into two parts. The first is urban, from Piraeus to Vouliagmeni (crossing six municipalities), and is 22 kilometers in length. This section will have a unified pedestrian pathway and a cycling lane (except for the Elliniko coastline, which has its own planning and legal framework).

According to the technical specifications, the urban section has a mosaic of uses and roles. Firstly, Poseidonos Avenue runs parallel to the coastline, as does a large section of the tramline. Two rivers (the Kifissos and Ilisos) and many streams (Trachanon, Pikrodafnis and others) meet the sea along this coastal stretch. Several marinas (Zeas, Mikrolimano, Athens, Flisvos, Alimos, Agios Kosmas, Glyfada), a number of organized beaches (Alimos, Glyfada, Voula, Vouliagmeni), as well as important sports facilities (Peace and Friendship Stadium, Faliro Coastal Zone Olympic Complex [Taekwondo], and others) are all dotted along the coast. 

There are also a number of important public and private projects in the area. The reclamation of Faliro Bay, from Moschato to Kallithea, the Elliniko development plan, the Asteras investment project, the concession of Alimos Marina. The partition of the coast is a major problem, resulting in issues of ownership and other hurdles that could limit or even totally prevent people from walking or cycling along its entire length. 

The second section is the less developed coastline from Vouliagmeni to Sounio, which is 48 kilometers. There are several settlements (including Varkiza, Lagonissi and Saronida) and large hotels along this stretch, while TAIPED owns 60 hectares of land in Alykes Anavyssou that it will auction off. The remaining coastline maintains its natural characteristics. The project has a budget of €55 million. 

The Olympic complex

The intervention will focus on upgrading the functionality of the Olympic complex, aiming to spruce up its appearance, reduce its overheads, create new sources of revenue and convert it into a modern, vibrant, safe and profitable (or at least not costly) urban destination. 

The proposal comprises six separate projects, with a total projected budget of €53.8 million. The first is the maintenance and repair of the metal roof of the Olympic Stadium, upgrading the electrical and mechanical facilities of the stadium, and renovating all non-athletic spaces, to increase its energy efficiency. As part of the works, the stadium’s cooling and heating systems will also be replaced. 

The second project will separate the electrical and mechanical facilities of the swimming pool and the basketball court. This will result in both facilities being able to operate independently, resulting in a reduction in energy consumption.

The third project entails maintenance of the track and roof of the cycling dome, as well as its redevelopment as a multifunctional building. The goal is to increase the utilization of the space and thus improve revenues by allowing it to host both sporting and non-sporting events. The building’s energy efficiency will also be improved.

Fourth is the upgrade of the swimming pool, including turning part of it into a rehabilitation center. The fifth project is the maintenance of the outdoor tennis courts and the revamping of the indoor tennis center. Finally, the sixth project will improve the outdoor areas of the complex, restore the Agora and the Wall of Nations, and create a new parking area. The project will also expand OAKA’s green areas and see the planting of new trees.

The budget for the project is €53.7 million, of which €43.3 million will be covered by the recovery fund.

Behind closed doors

“Integrating these three projects in the recovery fund was a reasonable political decision,” says Serraos. He believes that these long-discussed projects, which never materialized, will have a positive impact on life in the capital. However, he notes that the planning needs to satisfy three basic factors: to be of a public nature, to complement existing and planned projects in Attica, and publicity, even potentially including an open forum to discuss specific issues. 

“When an opportunity for funding appears, it is reasonable that a large part of it will be funneled to the city where a third, if not more, of the population of the country lives,” states Serraos. “One could ask ‘Wwhy these projects and not something else?’ I think that in all three cases serious needs must be met. The coastline, for example, has been discussed for over 30 years. Athens has turned its back to the sea, ignoring this huge and beautiful coastline. Little had been done to change this.

First, we had the creation of the [Stavros Niarchos Foundation] cultural center in Kallithea to mobilize the redevelopment of Faliro Bay, regardless of how it has ended up in recent years. Later we had Elliniko, and the concessions of the marinas. For a resident of Athens, however, who wants to go down to the coast and walk or cycle along it, there is an obvious absence.

I also consider the Olympic complex to be a reasonable project. Anyone who visits it really does wonder how it came to be in such a decrepit state. Finally, the grounds at Tatoi, apart from being an area of historical importance, are a large leisure area that is in touch with nature yet close to the capital. Thus, in my opinion, bringing these projects forward is a positive development.”

As to who is designing these projects, there seems to be no clear answer. “Obviously, politics are being conducted centrally. The role of the Environment Ministry, responsible for urban planning in the Athens metro area, is not clear. I have also not understood what the role of TAIPED will be, or if it will play the part of designer for the public sector, something that is probably not the best choice.

One of the things that needs to be taken care of is to not insulate these projects around themselves, but to connect them to what exists and is planned in Attica. Furthermore, they need to primarily serve the public interest, ensuring free access for all, equally (something that in the case of Elliniko I am worried will not be achieved, following the removal of the coastal path).

Finally, they need publicity. It is not enough that some people meet somewhere or host closed meetings. They need to find a way, possibly an online platform, that will provide up-to-date and detailed information on the projects, giving people the opportunity to debate specific issues. The goal of these projects should be to raise support.”