The city centre of Athens is about to undergo a major facelift.
Almost a decade after it hosted the Summer Olympics of 2004, the Greek capital will now push to modernise itself, as its embarks on an ambitious project to create a sustainable, eco-friendly city centre that will appeal to citizens of this great city and the millions of tourists that visit it annually.
Concerned by the lack of quality public spaces, the Onassis Foundation, within the framework of its public benefit activities, responded to the present need for urban revival by funding and organising the Re-think Athens project.
Its first step was to organise and fund a two-stage European architectural competition for the creation of a new city centre, a project centred around Panepistimiou Street. The foundation has also committed to providing the funds required for all the necessary studies of implementation.
The objective was to collect proposals that would awaken, inspire and reveal possibilities that reflect the character of the city and promote a healthy future image of a lively metropolis that keeps evolving.
“Hard as it might seem, the moment has finally come for us to now be able to speak again of Athens in a visionary and yet absolutely realistic manner,” said the President of The Onassis Foundation, Anthony Papadimitriou, at the recent announcement of the competition winners.
“The moment has finally come to let go of the fear and frustration that we all feel, walking around the city, to allow for the emergence of optimism and of those sentiments that will motivate the citizens themselves towards undertaking the most peaceful, creative and productive recapture of Athens. And this is one first major victory for Athenians, for our city,” Mr Papadimitriou added.
Referring to Panepistimiou Street and the area between Syntagma and Omonoia Squares, Mr Papadimitriou said in no other major city in the world has an emblematic, multifunctional metropolitan avenue endowed with such a rich architectural heritage been reserved exclusively for traffic.
“Even the iconic trilogy area, which consists of a wonderful architectural ensemble reflecting the historical and cultural character of the city, keeps being aesthetically downgraded and reserved exclusively for traffic,” he added.
That very area is the main focus of the Re-think Athens project, one that will now see Panepistimiou Street become a part of an urban and architectural ‘ring’ that will link the pedestrian zone of the archaeological sites with the most significant archaeological museums of the city, as well as with the most significant focal points of cultural and commercial activity in the city.
Omonoia Square, formerly a roundabout, will now be transformed into an actual square.
The backbone of the project will be a new tramline connecting Amalias Avenue with Panepistimiou Street and Patission Street. The functional and environmental upgrade of the city centre will shed light upon its most obscure areas.
It is hoped Panepistimiou Street and Omonoia Square will once again become the most vibrant parts of the city.
“We all have the right to a friendlier, more inviting city which favours multiple functions involving trade, services, housing, culture and entertainment,” added Mr Papadimitriou.
For the implementation of this competition, the Onassis Foundation has signed, as sponsor, a legal agreement with the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, the former Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Networks (now called Ministry of Development, Competitiveness, Transport, Infrastructure and Networks), the Attiko Metro S.A., as well as memoranda of collaboration with the Attica Prefecture and the Municipality of Athens.
For the preparation of the final studies and the funding of the projects through EU funds, the Foundation is already collaborating with the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, the Ministry of Development, Competitiveness, Transport, Infrastructure and Networks, as well as with a number of other institutions that will greatly contribute to the successful coordination of the project.
Mr Papadimitriou says the time has come for the Greek government to be called upon to fulfil its commitments.
“It is the moment that we, the citizens, will exercise pressure and control upon the Government for the implementation of the project, and right after, we will defend the new Athens. The Onassis Foundation, with optimism and with a great sense of duty, funded and organised the competition and all the necessary studies for the final tendering of the project. What we now look forward to ourselves is for the mantle to be passed on to the authorities together with the studies in a few months, so that we will be able to meet again in Athens in 2016, when they will have had everything complete,” said Mr Papadimitriou.
The winning proposal of Re-think Athens was submitted by leading Dutch architectural and outdoor planning group Okra, alongside teams from Mixt Urbanisme, Wageningen University, WSGreen Technologies and Greek firm Studio 75.
According to Mr Papadimitriou, the joint winning proposal embodies and creates the conditions for the citizens of Athens to claim a new reality for their city.
“The chance for Athens is here. It now remains for the state, but mainly for all of us, to seize it. Not only for making the centre of Athens more visually appealing or more functional, but mostly because the creation of a new centre of Athens that will be human and accommodating for development, productivity, interactions and creativity will greatly contribute to the mending of the city’s damaged social fabric.
“That centre can become the common ground that will bind all of us together once more; because a healthy, productive city will lead into a healthy, united, vigorous society. And that is a goal that far surpasses Athens, it is a goal of national importance.”