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A City Without a View

Can the capital's concrete jungle ever change? Afforestation of neglectedopen spaces the size of 600 football fields could turn Athens into a green city, experts say

By Kathy Tzilivakis, Athens News
Reprinted by Permission

BACKED into a corner of concrete and pavement, few Athenians have a garden or a grassy lawn to call their own.

Each resident of this crowded metropolis, home to nearly half of Greece's total population (10,964,020), has to make do with just 2.5sqm of greenery. There's just not enough to go around. Other European cities, however, have an average of 10sqm per capita. Brussels has a whopping 27sqm of green space per inhabitant.

Urban planners agree that Athens needs a massive injection of green. And while the average Athenian pines for more park facilities for leisure and recreation, many argue the only way out of this dead-end situation of over-development is to tear down buildings.

Recent town planning surveys show green spaces make up 10.3 percent of Athens' total area. Combined with areas that are free of construction, the amount of open space represents about 24.6 percent. The largest areas of greenery are Pedio tou Areos Park (about 52.5 acres) and the National Gardens (37.5 acres). Smaller parks include Alsos Syngrou (30 acres) and Alsos Pangratiou (seven acres).

But despite seemingly little green, there are some 750 acres of undeveloped, neglected and in many cases completely forgotten open spaces scattered around the city. This total area is about the size of 600 football fields.

Where is this vast expanse of open space? A recent study carried out by the Athens-based Coordinating Committee for Open Spaces found that centrally-located neighbourhoods contain the lion's share of potential open areas. Patissia and Ambelokipi each have a total 30 acres. The area near the senior citizens' home (known as Gerokomio) has some 47.5 acres. Neos Kosmos has a total area of 41.5 acres.

"These are small squares, parks and vacant lots that if used wisely can be turned into small oases for our much-afflicted city," says civil engineer Panayotis Patarias, a technical advisor at Athens municipality.

Many other experts agree. Employees at the environment ministry's Athens Organisation (involved in town planning and protecting the capital's environment), concur the problem is not where to find open spaces, but how to make the most of them.

Dorgouti, an area of about 3.75 acres behind the Inter-Continental Hotel, is a classic example. Half of this area belongs to the Athens municipality, about half an acre belongs to the church and the rest to the Public Power Corporation (DEI). According to Patarias, this could be a "real oasis". The problem is that those involved in managing it are not able to sit at the table and reach an agreement.

Deserted army bases and abandoned factories take up a lot of space in Athens. Katerina Sykianaki of the organisation, says the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens have finally set the wheels in motion, though problems still remain.

"It's our job to plan for greenery and open spaces," she said. "Plans to create parks in the city, however, are caught up in procedures with the various agencies that share ownership of a specific plot of land to form agreements... Aside from conducting research and drawing up the plans, the implementation is not in our hands."

She points to Goudi to illustrate the situation. The Athens Polytechnic hammered out a plan to create a 250-acre park in the area, but this ambitious design is still on paper. A similar example is the old airport at Hellenikon, where Sykianaki says more than a dozen different owners are involved.

"Studies have been conducted, but they are never realised," explains Sykianaki. "It is not just the money needed to fund these projects, it is trying to get all those involved to agree and to work together."

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