Demonstrators tear down privatization fences (Athens, 19/6/2008)

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In a few words: After a call of the local residents struggle committe, more than 1000 persons from the area and also nearby neighbourhoods demonstrated for the opening of Villa Zografou, the cancelling of its privatization/commercialization of the last remaining green space in the area and its afforestation and turning into a communal highly-green zone. The demonstration ended in a popular party inside Villa Zografou, where the residents repelled a riot police brigade that attacked them. Later on, a heavy metal door was cut with a grindstone while the residents where chanting slogans and cheering. The door was used to prevent people from going in the Villa Zografou gardens, and thus to be easier to start privatization works. The door was later carried by a march to a nearby square and thrown there.

The city hall has bough villa Zografou and plans to give it to a company to build a large commercial center of 38.000 square meters. On the roof of the commercial center, it is supposed to have a garden for the residents, who will pay in taxes more than 40.000.000 euros for that...

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Large retail center in pipeline for last green space > Despite the encroachment of developers in recent years, the site of the Villa Zografou remains an oasis of greenery, the only one in the area. Plans to build a shopping mall there have met with opposition from local residents.

The decision by the local authorities of Athens’s Zografou district to proceed with an agreement reached with the Zografou family to build a shopping mall on a large piece of land has upset local inhabitants. The Mayor claims that most of the land will remain unused as the plans are for the shopping mall to be constructed underground. Local residents meanwhile are opposed to the idea of a terraced garden. The Public Works Ministry has shown no interest in the issue. The Zografou property is the last green space left in one of Europe’s most densely populated Municipalities and local people have asked the Public Works Ministry to intervene so that the 1 hectare may be expropriated.

Seen from above, Zografou is a sea of concrete with the only oasis of greenery in the center, where the Villa Zografou is located. Over 150,000 inhabitants are crammed into 350 hectares with just 5.9 hectares free of buildings, a ratio of 0.4 square meters per inhabitant, when the international requirement is 10-12 square meters. The current state of affairs is dire for inhabitants in the area, which has been built up with eight and nine-story apartment blocks. Though small, the Zografou estate is precious, despite its current run-down state.

“We wanted a dense green area, a leisure park with open expanses to provide a breathing space and allow youngsters to undertake creative activities,” said Liana Kalogridi, a member of the committee set up to save the estate. “The estate has been an issue for the inhabitants for over 30 years and the authorities have either taken no action or resorted to unfavorable measures,” she added.

Half of the 1 hectare was turned over to the Municipality in 1976. In 2003 the prefecture, after a proposal put forward by the Municipality, designated the plot as a communal green area without securing the necessary funds. The Zografou family appealed to the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, to overturn the decision. The court’s decision was still pending when the Municipality went ahead with the purchase of half the plot, reversing the previous decision to preserve the estate as a communal green area (12/04/2006).

The agreement reached between the Municipality and the Zografou family envisages a two-story shopping and leisure mall with a total surface area of 14,325 square meters and a large four-story underground car park of 23,000 square meters. Due to the gradient, the mall will for the most part be underground but not its facade. “The top of the building will be 2 meters below the villa’s ground floor so it can be covered with soil and turned into a green area,” said Zografou Mayor Yiannis Kazakos.

Stamatis Varkirtizis, a member of the committee to save the estate, is of a different opinion: “We gave the estate and got a terrace. How can it become a park with a high density of greenery as we requested with just 2 meters of soil?” The inhabitants that are protesting have highlighted that the “terrace” will not be completely free as “it must not impede the operation of lighting and airing systems for the shopping mall” in compliance with building requirements. A further 300 square meters have also been set aside for the shopping mall’s exit in exchange for just 313,000 euros.

What is certain is that such a large retail park will aggravate traffic congestion in an area with narrow side streets. During construction work the whole area will be a nightmare to circulate in. Exhaust fumes from trucks and cars as well as vehicles that will supply the retail center, will be considerable and on top of the emissions from the building itself.

The Municipality has pledged 19.4 million to the project and has taken out a 25 million loan from a Cypriot bank. Not only has the Municipality gone into debt, it will not even be able to take any action without the bank’s consent. Kazakos believes it is the best solution, and when the decision was made, the majority of the opposition also gave its approval. Today, though, all factions in the Municipal Council, except for the one aligned with the Mayor, are against the decision.