2016 | Dec
This article is based on research carried out as part of my doctoral dissertation whose subject was walking and pedestrianization in the centre of Athens (Kanellopoulou, 2015). My objective, in this text, is to show the historical development of pedestrianization policies and the main (government) bodies responsible for the design of public spaces in the Greek capital. Although soft mobility in Athens is a marginal topic compared to other European cities (ESPON/TEMS), numerous public works on both a minor and major scale have taken place from 1970 to the present. These works dramatically changed the quality of the urban environment as well as the way in which this environment was perceived by pedestrians on their daily routes. Despite the initial objective of the local authority and of central government to create an entire network of pedestrian zones as well as to connect all archaeological sites, already in the 60s (Ζήβας, 2003), public works only progressed to a certain level. The fragmented nature of pedestrianization in the neighbourhoods of the seven districts of the Municipality of Athens and the beautification of roads of metropolitan significance, have raised questions regarding the geographical location of streets which became pedestrian, but also regarding urban planning and its symbolic role in the configuration and utilization of public space in the city.
This article is based on the collection of data from primary as well as secondary sources. Primary sources refer to forty interviews, which were carried out between 2011 and 2014 with public and private sector organizations in Athens, as well as various unpublished maps of that era which were given to me during the interviews. The secondary sources are technical texts and articles of that era and can be accessed by the reader in the archives of the local authority as well as in the archives of the organizations referred to in this article. The maps were personally revised by Stavros Nikiforos Spyrellis based on my thesis’ data.
The vision for a pedestrianized historical centre (1970-1990)
When the Ministry of Public Works (YΔΕ) began digging up Voukourestiou Street in the 1970s, thereby profoundly changing the landscape on this bustling road by transforming it into a big pedestrian street, a large section of the media, shop owners and even politicians reacted by saying the project was a result of a beautification intervention which would not be able to solve the problems nor meet the needs of the city (Μάνος, 2013). On the cover of The Architects’ Association Bulletin in 1978 (Figure 1), there is a comic by a well-known cartoonist (KYR) showing a newspaper agent in the middle of a flooded Voukourestiou Street shouting “Newspapers….Voukourestiou Street pedestrianiiiiized”. In the late 70s and early 1980s Athens experienced dramatic floods, so the projects to restore public space seemed to be, for most Athenians, a luxury. Discussions regarding quality of life improvements were considered “empty words” or just figments of the imagination of urban planners ( Μάνος, 2013). In this climate of mistrust, a group of architects, urban planners and designers from the Ministry of Regional and Urban Planning and the Environment (Υ.Χ.Ο.Π.) began compiling studies regarding the connection of green spaces with significant monuments in the centre of Athens via upgraded pedestrian routes (Figure 2).
Figure 1: Cover of the Bulletin of the Greek Architects Association (1978) where the cartoonist KYR relates the announcement of pedestrianization projects with the extensive floods experienced by the city at that time
Source: A. Geronikou archive – Technical Department of the Municipality of Athens
Figure 2: Interconnection of pedestrian streets in the central District of the Municipality of Athens
Source: Study of the central District of the Municipality of Athens by Th. Papagiannis & Associates for the Ministry of Planning and the Environment. S. Koulis archive
This group was accountable to ‘The Special Service for Public Works  for the Upgrading of Free Public Spaces and Area Renewal’ (ΕΥΔΕ – ΑΕΚΧΑΠ) and comprised employees of the Ministry and external experts, who were supported by the Minister Stefanos Manos. They lay the foundations for a vast plan which would reveal the historical nature of the centre of Athens and reclaim parts of public space for pedestrians . The pedestrianization of Voukourestiou Street was not without precedent however, as the plan to restore the historical neighbourhood of Plaka had already been implemented. Apart from numerous architectural interventions on buildings, this plan also included the construction of an extended network of pedestrian streets (Figure 3) within that traditional neighbourhood (Μιχαήλ, 1986)
Figure 3: Proposed pedestrianization (in light green colour) in the neighbourhood of Plaka
Source: Leaflet of the Ministry of Planning and the Environment (1980). N. Remoundou-Triantafylli archive
The role of the Technical Department of the Local Authority and the State
In the early 1980s, the vision of a pedestrianized centre in Athens became a plan and gradually became a reality due to parallel, even though perhaps not co-ordinated actions on the part of the Ministry and of the Technical Department of the Municipality of Athens. It is important to stress that urban planning policies regarding the restoration and pedestrianization of public spaces were radically modified due to the recruitment by the Ministry of a new, younger generation of architects (Τουρή, 2013) as well as to the alignment of objectives and policies amongst local and central authorities. The Ministry’s plan to restore the city centre aimed at creating a network of pedestrian streets which would connect historical squares, significant monuments and archaeological sites (Κουλής, 2014) (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Network of pedestrian flows determined by the Ministry of Planning and the Environment for the centre of Athens
Source: Γιαννόπουλος (1980)
The Municipality’s Department of Urban Planning along with the Department of Architecture and the Department of Public Works constructed numerous pedestrian streets on a small scale in neighbourhoods in all seven Districts of Athens (known as District Units today) (Map 1, Graph 1&2)
Map 1: Pedestrian streets in the Municipality of Athens
Graph 1: Pedestrianization in the Municipality of Athens (1972-2008)
Graph 2: Pedestrianization in the the 1st, 2nd and 5th District of the Municipality of Athens (1972-2008)
The researchers within the ΕΥΔΕ- ΑΕΚΧΑΠ group experimented both in design and construction by trying out materials and discussing the project with both developers and contractors regarding the different possibilities in construction (Figure 5). The employees of the Technical Department were able to gain know-how concerning land use, based on observation, trial and adjustment to the Athenian landscape on a daily basis. The Municipality, in co-operation with the Ministry (ΥΧΟΠ), completed numerous pedestrianization projects on a small scale in densely populated neighbourhoods in the city centre, particularly in areas around school buildings, churches and small open spaces at road junctions (Σκιαδά, 2013) (Figure 6).
Figure 5: Pavement cover at Aiolou pedestrian street
Source: Κανελλοπούλου (2014)
Figure 6: Cover of Booklet on the Design of Pedestrian Streets published by the Ministry of Planning and the Environment
Source: Archive of the Municipality of Athens Master Plan
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European Platform on Mobility Management, “Tems The EPOMM Modal Split Tool”, www.epomm.eu/tems