2015 | Dec
Metropolitan space is essentially the space in which the financial and social impacts of an urban core are recorded. Defining a Functional Urban Region (FUR) has been a concern in most European urban planning frameworks since the post-war period, while the emergence of the “metropolitan periphery” as a separate level of governance indicates the specific significance of this scale in matters of urban space regulation. In the case of Athens, the absence of such provisions from the State administration until recently, reflects the political dominance of views that approached unplanned urban growth as the fastest track to economic growth.
The political demands for the creation of metropolitan structures in spatial planning became more specific in Athens in the mid-1980s (1985 Master Plan), as a result of failures and environmental dead-ends the city was facing. However they were not complemented with any administrative restructuring. At the same time, a number of new intergovernmental challenges arose, that were mainly related to the management of EU development programmes. The next two decades saw an intense effort to implement administrative reforms. Indicatively, the Region of Attica was created(1986); five municipal administrations (Athens, Piraeus, the Joint Prefecture of Athens-Piraeus, East Attica, West Attica) were upgraded to political authorities (1994), and municipalities and communities were consolidated as part of the “Kapodistrias” programme (1997). In spite of those efforts, reform often stumbled on institutional barriers which led to setbacks. The thorny issue of transferring spatial planning responsibilities from central administration to local authorities proved to be a key problem about which the Council of State generated a wealth of case law (Βασενχόβεν κ.ά. 2010). Thus, ultimately, the decision to establish a democratically accountable governance body responsible for the entire metropolis was never taken. As a consequence, development in the Athens region remained under the responsibility of central government.
During the preparation for the Olympics, the lack of appropriate decentralised governance structures meant that the metropolitan planning of Athens was carried out by the central government administration. Although the Olympic interventions were pivotal to the city’s future development, the entire project was seen as a special occurrence and thus was managed through a special legal and organisational framework. In this way, the Athens Plan, which posed obstacles to the planning of the Olympics, was circumvented (Chorianopoulos et al. 2010). The opportunity to restructure metropolitan governance on a more rational basis was lost. In parallel, the transfer of key responsibilities for metropolitan planning to various ad hoc bodies and organisations resulted in a serious democratic deficit. This condition was carried forward to the post-Olympic era by extending ad infinitum the special exemption clauses applying to the Olympic project areas. In the years that followed, this fragmented governance approach was not effective in tackling issues of metropolitan significance. To some extent, governance ineffectiveness negated some of the benefits of the Athens Olympics.
The recent effort to re-organise territorial governance structures through the ‘Kallikrates’ programme (2010), was an effort to address those issues. A new, elected, governance body was established: the Metropolitan Regional Authority. Its remit covered the metropolitan region and several responsibilities of metropolitan significance were passed on to it . In parallel, the region’s 122 municipalities and communities were merged into 66 municipal authorities. The new governance architecture of the metropolis and the allocation of responsibilities between various administrative levels are outlined in figure 1.
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