The re­vival of the cap­i­tal’s com­mer­cial tri­an­gle

The City of Athens and the Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion have part­nered up to boost busi­ness and spruce up the down­town shop­ping dis­trict

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY DIM­ITRIS ATHINAKIS

A pi­lot pro­gram called “The Tri­an­gle” has re­sulted in a sea change in re­la­tions be­tween the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and shop own­ers in Athens’s “com­mer­cial tri­an­gle,” as the cap­i­tal’s cen­tral re­tail dis­trict is known, re­sult­ing in an ef­fec­tive co­ex­is­tence in a city that’s dif­fi­cult at the best of times but which is go­ing through an es­pe­cially hard time now.

The Tri­an­gle was launched last year with fund­ing from the Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion. It has since yielded tan­gi­ble re­sults. In the area, Athi­nas, Evripi­dou, Per­i­cleous, Athi­nai­dos and Aghias Eiri­nis streets are grad­u­ally be­ing pedes­tri­an­ized. Build­ing fa­cades, some of which are con­sid­ered ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sures, are be­ing rid of lay­ers of spray paint and posters, and cov­ered with anti-graf­fiti and hy­dropho­bic coat­ings. City Hall has part­nered up with chem­i­cals com­pany Booka for this spe­cific task.

In or­der to im­prove the lack of green space in Athens, pot­ted plants have been placed out­side of shops, along with benches, chairs and ta­bles, invit­ing the public to stop and look around. Twelve tele­com cable ter­mi­nals have been dec­o­rated by artists. The area’s light­ing has also been im­proved with the in­stal­la­tion of 3,040 street lamps – al­though at the same time the rest of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Athens has been wait­ing on the ap­proval of 50,000 street lamps for two years now.

The lo­cal econ­omy

“Any­thing we need ei­ther for the area or even for our of­fices, we get it from the lo­cal mar­ket in or­der to strengthen the lo­cal econ­omy. We flow like a slow river,” says Elina Dalla, project man­ager for The Tri­an­gle. She also served as the the City of Athens’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer dur­ing the 2004 Olympic Games.

We met with Elina one blaz­ing hot af­ter­noon when the At­tic light brought both the ug­li­ness and beauty of this city into sharp fo­cus. She sub- mits monthly re­ports to the Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion and ev­ery Sun­day brings Mayor Gior­gos Kami­nis up to date on the project’s progress on the tele­phone. Most im­por­tantly, though, she re­sponds daily to requests, com­plaints and praise from the area’s busi­ness own­ers. At the same time, she wants to en­cour­age the city’s res­i­dents to uti­lize build­ings that to­day stand empty.

The orig­i­nal vi­sion for the com­mer­cial tri­an­gle was born out of a de­sire to make more public space with fewer ve­hi­cles. Its strat­egy was based on two ma­jor stud­ies con­ducted by The Tri­an­gle that used a sam­ple of 1,500 of the area’s vis­i­tors and over 100 busi­ness own­ers. The stud­ies found that 71 per­cent of the vis­i­tors said they would go to the dis­trict more fre­quently if there were more com­mon ar­eas to sit. More than half (57.5 per­cent) said they wanted the area to be cleaner, with less graf­fiti on the walls, while a sim­i­lar number (56 per­cent) said they wanted more pedes­trian space.

Among busi­ness own­ers, 68.3 per- cent iden­ti­fied il­le­gal park­ing and idling ve­hi­cles to be a ma­jor prob­lem and two-thirds crit­i­cized the lack of polic­ing. Im­prov­ing street light­ing was seen as a pri­or­ity for 65 per­cent while 53.3 per­cent also un­der­scored that they want to see cleaner streets. Th­ese are all is­sues the Tri­an­gle project is work­ing to fix. A monthly up­date on the project’s progress comes in the form of pam­phlets and news­let­ters for those who live and work in the dis­trict and th­ese are made avail­able for vis­i­tors to see as well.

Many of the area streets had been grad­u­ally pedes­tri­an­ized be­tween 1978 and 2001, but the reg­u­la­tion sim­ply hasn’t been en­forced. “The le­gal frame­work was al­ready there – we just ac­ti­vated it,” said Elina. “We ac­ti­vated the pedes­tri­an­iza­tion of Vis­sis and Kairi streets in April of this year, Karori and Agath­onos in May, and in June Chrisospili­o­tis­sis, Nikiou and Mil­ti­adou streets joined their ranks.”

Dalla and her col­leagues come up against red tape and slow ser­vice on the part of the city and the public sec- tor ev­ery day. “You must be ready to deal with so many dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes and re­ac­tions from peo­ple.” That is how Pana­gi­o­tis Per­i­me­nis, who works with the Tri­an­gle project, de­scribes it. Pana­gi­o­tis is the go-to per­son for the busi­ness own­ers and tries to keep ev­ery­one in­volved up to speed.

A lo­cal busi­ness owner says he changed his mind three times about whether or not he’d like to take part in the pi­lot pro­gram. “I was hes­i­tant when they first came to ask me if they could ‘re­store’ – as they de­scribed it – the front of my shop and put a pot­ted plant out­side. What would you have thought if you were in my po­si­tion? Later, I said: ‘Why not try it? What do I have to lose?’ Then I said, ‘Oh why should I get caught up in this?’ But now I’ve fi­nally seen the im­prove­ments in front of me and em­braced the pot­ted plant as my own!” he says em­phat­i­cally.

Many sto­ries

Elina says she’s heard numer­ous sim­i­lar sto­ries. “A shop owner near Kara­manou Square where Vis­sis and Athi­nas streets meet doesn’t want their es­tab­lish­ment to sud­denly have two dolls made by an artist or an event we or­ga­nized in front of it. To­day the artist goes there ev­ery month and changes the dolls’ clothes. The mayor and I have a goal to cre­ate a model to un­der­stand Athens through the pro­mo­tion of its wealth of craft, his­tory and gas­tron­omy, by cre­at­ing more public space, more green space, and re­new­ing ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture. Above all, to en­gage cit­i­zens.”

Of course, in a city like Athens, where one side of a road may be­long to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity and the other to a min­istry, things are es­pe­cially com­pli­cated. So imag­ine act­ing as the go­b­e­tween with all par­ties in­volved and the water com­pany as the lat­ter goes about chang­ing the out­dated sewage sys­tem for Ai­olou Street. “It ap­pears ev­ery­thing from the sky down to the earth ends up in the same drainage pipe, which is why Ai­olou Street stinks,” Elina sighs.

Vissi Street in cen­tral Athens has been pedes­tri­an­ized and trans­formed into a vi­brant, color­ful street, at­tract­ing tourists and lo­cals alike to area shops.

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