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Rethink Athens Initiative: Is this the Right Way Towards a New City Centre?

No trees, high temperatures during the summer, noisy, congested and often cramped with protests – the centre of the Greek capital has become a place to avoid at all costs.

Re-think Athens, the Onassis Foundation Initiative to transform Athens centre into a friendlier environment, recently opened the exhibition "Towards a New City Centre" in the Arsakeio Arcade with all the components of the ongoing urban design project. Books on tables and posters with illustrations of the future city, details of the structural, mechanical, transportation and landscape designs are all presented to inform the visitors.

Rethink Athens Exhibition,Arsakeio Arcade, Athens, Greece

A quick scan of the visitors comment book at the exhibition will give you the local perspective. To the minds of all those that have lived near Athens, the introduction of more trees and pedestrian areas downtown looks very appealing indeed. On the other hand, Re-think Athens is described by many as a very ambitious and expensive plan, in times of struggle by the economic recession that will not succeed in the long term. So, is this initiative the right route towards enhancing the urban living environment? In another room of the exhibition an unknown term to the common eye it is mentioned, gentrification.

On recent surveys, it was recorded that more than 700 buildings are empty around the centre areas and that more than 130,000 residents have moved out in the last decade. At the same time business groups have started buying multiple properties. The actual intervention area, Panepistimiou Avenue from Syntagma to Omonia Square, it is not residential, with most buildings to be government owned offices, businesses, and hotels.

Trilogy on Panepistimiou Avenue, Athens, Greece

Trilogy on Panepistimiou Avenue, Athens, Greece

Panepistimiou Avenue combines two different characters. One character is touristic sightseeing and historical interest of landmark buildings, and the other is the iconic starting point of several past and present protests against civil oppression. So, what remains to be seen is whether Athenians will revise their opinion for their capital's centre, to forget it as "the eye of the hurricane" and to see it as "the apple of their eye."

The majority of the population in the centre resides next to this area; these surrounding neighborhoods will be the first to experience any negative effects. On the environmental assessment presented in the Arsakeio Exhibition, the negative effects on the nearby areas from the change in traffic are mentioned; but described as inferior to the potential benefits of the project.

Re-think Athens strikes as a "gentrification paradox," apparently contradicting itself but yet might be true.

In the city of Athens there are countless spots inside actual residential areas, which could undergo smaller scale changes and make a big difference in the urban environment (e.g.: Buerger Katsota Architects PX Athens project). But in most cases, the environmental non-profit character of the concept acts as an obstacle to its realization.

PX Athens Kalisperi Street, Makrygianni, Athens, Greece

PX Athens Kalisperi Street, Makrygianni, Athens, Greece

What environmental non-profit projects, either in larger or smaller scale, have recently been done in your residential area? Do you know or can identify any gentrification incidents in your city?

Credits: Images by Valia Stavrianidi or linked to sources. Data linked to sources.