THE QUEEN'S TOWER PARK IN ATHENS
The Athens Urban Pilot Project centred around the creation of an "Environmental Awareness Park" in north-west Athens, one of the most deprived parts of the Greater Athens Metropolitan Area. The project aimed to transform 1.5 km2 of underdeveloped publicly-owned land, the Queen's Tower site, into a "breath of greenery" for the depressed areas of north-west Athens. The broader objective was to change people's attitudes towards the environment by increasing their awareness of environmental problems and ways to overcome them. To achieve this objective, physical improvements and environmental protection measures were designed to complement and/or facilitate leisure, training, and social activities on the grounds of the Park.
The Parks development was based on a well integrated Mater Plan, which comprised two stages of implementation. The Urban Pilot Project focused on the first stage, allowing for the development of an area of about 0.7 km. It was implemented over a four year period, from January 1991 to June 1995. The planned cost amounted to 7.68 MECU, 75% of which comprised co-financing from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
During this pilot phase, extensive landscaping and environmental improvement works were undertaken, featuring artificial lakes, waterfalls, reforestation and flora diversification. In addition, the project involved the refurbishment of Queen Amelias and King Ottos estate and stables located within the Park's boundaries, and their re-use as an exhibition hall and a training Centre for the Environment. Other buildings were also constructed to house the Parks administration and other supporting services, as well as related public agencies which were already located on the site. The results and recommendations of an Environmental Impact Study and a Business Plan Study undertaken during the pilot phase were subsequently integrated in the strategy for the further development and operation of the Park.
Following the completion of the UPP, in August 1997, the second phase of the Parks development was "mainstreamed" into the Operational Programme for the Environment and received financial support through Greeces Objective 1 Community Support Framework. The completion of the Parks development is envisaged for end 1999. Overall, the project demonstrates how a declining peripheral area inhabited by low-income groups can be regenerated through a programme of environmentally and community oriented measures.
The Athens Urban Pilot Project aimed to tackle environmental and social problems in West Athens, one of the most deprived areas of the Greek capital. This peripheral district of the city has been affected by rapid urbanisation which, coupled with a lack of planned urban development, has led to a series of social and environmental problems. There is a distinct lack of social amenities, inadequate social, educational, leisure and welfare facilities, as well as an absence of accessible green open space.
A recent decline in manufacturing employment in Western Athens has bought high unemployment to the region, with a large proportion of the population on a low income. The area is also home to a high number of immigrants, many of whom arrived in the 1950s and 1960s. More recently, there have also been influxes of Pontian Greeks from the former Soviet Union, as well as Rom (gypsy) internal migrants.
THE TARGET AREA
The area targetted by the Urban Pilot Project lies in north-west Athens, within the territory of three local authorities: Agioi Anarrgyri, Kamatero and Nea Liossia. The area shares many of the characteristics of the wider region, with deprived communities living in a poor quality urban environment. Within the heart of the area lies a tract of underdeveloped publicly-owned land, the Queen's Tower site. This was seen as providing an ideal opportunity to tackle some of the problems of the neighbourhood, by combining environmental protection measures with the provision of social amenities.
At the beginning of the century, the landlord of the site was the Serpieris family. During the 1930s however, a major part of the area was passed over to the National Youth Institute, and later on, was passed over to the state. Over the last 30 years, small plots were given over for use by various welfare and public institutions, so that by the beginning of the 1990s, the time of the project's launch, twelve different public authorities were using parts of the site. This resulted in initial delays in the project's timetable, due to complex procedures to resolve these land-use issues.
About 88 hectares of the Queens Tower site make up the area to be developed as a Park, which will continue to include some of the public facilities already operating on the grounds, such as a vocational training school of the Greek Manpower and Employment Organisation (OAED) and the historic archives of the National Youth Institute. A further 13 hectares are currently occupied by other public uses, but it is anticipated that this surface will be integrated into the main body of the Park at a future date.
The project targets a population of approximately 120,000 people living in the direct vicinity of the Park. However, once fully developed, it is anticipated that the Queen's Tower Park will benefit those living in the wider area of West Athens, a total population of around 500,000. Access will be facilitated by a suburban railway line, currently under construction.
OBJECTIVES OF THE PROJECT
The overall aim of the project was to address the poor quality of the environment as well as social inequalities in the area. This, through a scheme which would have an immediate impact on the quality of life of the local inhabitants, but which would also be of a broader benefit in terms of increasing the environmental awareness of the general public.
More specifically, the objectives of the Queen's Tower Park project were:
In order to fulfil these objectives and to address the problems of the target area, the project undertook extensive landscaping and environmental improvement works on the site to create an "Environmental Awareness Park". Additional works on the site of the Park included:
The development of green and leisure space was thus combined with the development of facilities and activities aimed to promote environmental awareness.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS PARK
Major landscape improvements were carried out on the Queens Tower site to provide an attractive recreational area, featuring a series of artificial lakes, low waterfalls, a recreational train and a canal on the site of a former river bed. Ground elevations were modified and an artificial hill was constructed to enhance the landscape and to provide exclusive views of the mountains and hills surrounding the Athens plain, down to the Acropolis in the south.
An area of hillside pine woods was also upgraded, partially reforested and extensively enriched with Attica flora, shrubs and trees. The aim of area was to provide an example of a balanced eco-system, simulating an "open-air museum" of Attica flora.
In another sub-project, the site of an old farm of pistachio, almond and olive trees was renovated into an eco-farm. Some unhealthy trees were removed, new trees were planted and extensive work was carried out on ground enrichment with natural fertilisers and plantations of appropriate species. Half the area was used for experimental bio-cultivation of vegetables, with good results.
A series of other measures was also implemented to improve the functioning of the Park. An approach and entrance to the park were constructed on the western side, with parking space for cars and tourist coaches. A network of paths and tracks was created for pedestrians and cyclists. The whole area was equipped with appropriate infrastructure to provide energy, communications, lighting, irrigation, drainage, surveillance and fire protection.
THE CENTRE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND OTHER SERVICES
A series of construction and infrastructure works was also undertaken within the Park, to house various services.
The historic nineteenth century farm buildings of Queen Amelia's estate, which are now the property of the Greek state, were restored. Later additions were removed and a new wing was added to the east side of the courtyard, to accommodate "The Centre for the Environment". As well as providing training courses on applied environmental technologies to staff from local authorities within Greater Athens, the Centre will also acts a an exhibition hall for environmentally related events.
A number of other public institutes already located on the site, such as a vocational training centre of the Greek Manpower and Planning Organisation (OAED) and the premises of the National Youth Institute, were "integrated" into the Parks development plans. New buildings were constructed to house them in more appropriate parts of the Park. Premises were also provided for pilot projects run by institutions and public and private agencies involved in tackling environmental problems, such as the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources, the Agricultural University of Athens and the Botanical Gardens of Athens. An information centre, book store, gift shop and restaurant were also housed in new buildings, as well as administrative and support services.
The Athens Pilot Project had an immediate employment impact, with around 56 people being employed during the construction period. Some 80 permanent staff were employed at the end of the first phase of the Park's development (June 1995), and it is estimated that there will be a minimum of 108 permanent staff employed once the second phase is completed (anticipated for end 1999).
The creation of a park extending some 88 hectares in the midst of the dense urban area of Western Athens has had a striking impact in terms of the quality of the environment, particularly the air quality and micro-climate of the area. The systematic irrigation of the Park has also had a positive effect on the balance of the underground water table.
The fauna in the region has also benefited from the Park's redevelopment, as many birds (both endemic and migrating species) use the area as a nesting site. The Park provides a variety of environments, ranging from quiet wooded areas to waterside habitats, with suitable plant life for a wide range of fauna.
In addition, it is anticipated that the preservation, development and propagation of Attica flora and eco-systems will influence techniques of reforestation and methods aimed at "greening" the Attica region, undertaken by the Ministry of Agriculture and the various local authorities. The overall aim is to achieve a more balanced environment which is much less susceptible to extensive fire damage and which requires very little irrigation.
The Park is expected to influence the lives of 3 million Athenians, by contributing to a radical change in their attitude towards the environment. Once fully completed and operational, it is envisaged that the Park will provide information and training to students and environment-oriented interest groups, as well as to local communities, on issues of environmental awareness.
The creation of the Park is also contributing (along with other programmes being currently implemented) to the transformation of the area from a run-down, problematic, and at times, dangerous place to live into a secure, supervised, lively recreation centre. It is anticipated that it will make a significant contribution to the fight against social exclusion, local crime and drug abuse in the neighbourhood.
IMPACT ON FURTHER REGENERATION IN THE DISTRICT
Co-ordinated programmes aimed at improving the urban environment of Western Athens are now being implemented in the area, with the co-operation of Organisation for the Planning and Environmental Protection of West Athens (the UPP implementing agency) and the support of the Ministry of Environment, Planning and Public Works, local authorities and related public agencies. One particular programme deals with the transport and traffic infrastructure, which will also improve physical access to the Park. Another scheme aims to establish social services in the neighbourhood. Urban renewal schemes are also planned for the commercial and administrative centre of Agii Anargiri, as well as the area directly adjacent to the Park.
Responsibility for the management of the Urban Pilot Project lay with "The Organisation for Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens" (the "Athens Organisation"). This is a public body, working under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment, Planning and Public Works. A number of private agencies also co-operate with the Athens Organisation.
In what was an innovative initiative in the Greek context, a Co-ordinating Committee was established to assist in the development of the project. A network of neighbouring local authorities, interested actors and agencies were brought together to supervise the development of the project. The Committee included representatives from: the Public Power Co-operation; the Youth Secretariat; the Sports Secretariat; the Water Authority; the Hellenic Railway Company; the Ministry of Agriculture; the Association for Ecological Agriculture; and the Centre for Renewable Energy Sources. The wide range of interests represented on the Committee proved an invaluable asset, in particular, contributing to the feasibility and management studies for the Queen's Tower Park, and promoting the project's innovative ideas through channels of communication at a local level. This broad partnership is seen as having been crucial to the success of the project.
On reaching the end of the EU co-financing period, a pre-feasibility study was undertaken laying the conditions for the creation of a Management Agency to run the Park, on the basis of a Business Plan for the Parks operation and further development. The establishment of such an agency, an innovative step in the Greek context, necessitated a Ministerial decision on this issue. It is expected that the agency will be set up upon completion of the second phase of the Parks development, currently being implemented within the framework of the Greek Operational Programme for the Environment.
INFORMING PLANNING THROUGH EXCHANGE OF EXPERIENCE
Exchanging experience was a very important aspect of the project's work. During the inception phase of the project, the Athens Organisation visited other European Parks, to learn from their experience: Holland's Efteling Flerenhof and Autotrom Parks, France's Samara and La Villette parks, and Spain's La Cantueña Park, also an Urban Pilot Project. The aim was to gain an insight into the possible methods and approaches that could be adopted by a Park looking to promote environmental awareness by combining recreational, leisure and training activities. The visits provided valuable insights into innovations and possible management systems for an urban environmental park.
In addition, at the onset of the project in April 1992, the Management Committee held "The Queen's Tower Development Workshop", with participants from the various parks around Europe. During the workshop, a "Mission Statement" was adopted as a working strategy, which included guidelines for the management and maintenance of the Park, as well as notes for undertaking the site appraisal that included detailed layout, design and planning principles.
Representatives from the Athens Urban Pilot Project were actively involved in exchange of experience events throughout the lifetime of their project, including the organisation of three Conferences dealing with environmental issues in urban regions. They also undertook a concerted publicity campaign, with promotional material distributed to raise awareness about the project and to promote environmental programmes in general. On completion of the project at the end of 1995, a brochure about the achievements was published aimed at local and national government authorities, and at experts all over Europe, to disseminate the lessons learnt and experience gained from the pilot project.
The Athens UPP was one of the first projects to be implemented under the Urban Pilot Project programme. Launched in January 1991, just a year after the programme was initiated, the project was one of the first to implement the ideas imbedded in Article 10 of the ERDF, those of innovation, an integrated approach, the importance of partnerships, and the value of exchanging experience with other European cities. In 1991, such ideas were new in urban regeneration programmes in general, and particularly in the Greek context.
The overall strategy adopted by the project was innovative in itself, applying a method of recreational planning which combined environmental and social considerations. Thus issues such as local community development were coupled with concern for environmental protection and an emphasis on natural eco-systems, to produce an innovative approach to inner-city problems.
Within the Greek context, a particularly innovative aspect related to the management arrangements. Local government authorities from neighbouring districts collaborated to establish strategic objectives, and this has been seen as instrumental to the project's overall success.
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO THE SUCCESS OF THE PROJECT
The management structure behind the Athens UPP was seen as having been crucial to the success of the project. In particular the Co-ordinating Committee provided a forum for developing a partnership approach from the beginning of the project. This allowed for both vertical and horizontal co-operation between different levels of government, as well as between different departments, authorities, agencies and private enterprises. By encouraging personal contact and joint decision-making between high level officials of different agencies, mutual trust was established together with a communal belief in the project.
The project also demonstrated ways in which public administrations can benefit from close co-operation with independent experts and from international exchanges of experience. The Athens Organisation was given the flexibility and scope to intervene where necessary during the implementation stage, in order to adapt to lessons learnt from others, changing circumstances and to the progress of individual sub-programmes.
Belief in the project
The strong commitment by all parties involved in the project, and their deep-rooted belief in the objectives of the Park proved to be key factors in the project's success. This common belief provided the impetus needed to overcome institutional obstacles and made effective, timely and co-ordinated actions possible.
For further information, please contact:
Mr Stratis Koulis
Organisation for Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens2 Panormou Street GR - 11523 Athens
+ 30 1 69 25 909
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