Almost fifteen years have passed since the last commercial flight departed from Hellenico International Airport in Athens, Greece. Covering six hundred hectares, there is abandoned infrastructure, leftover auxiliary facilities and expansive wide open space waiting to be re-purposed.
Nearly twice as big as Hyde Park or Central Park and with five kilometers of coastline, Hellenico is a huge piece of premium land. Its distance from the city center and accessibility by public transport contributes to the area’s great prospect as a metropolitan park. Towards this kind of redevelopment, local authorities and town planners are consenting.
The athletic venues, positioned there for the 2004 Olympic Games (Hellenico Complex), enhanced the area. During the post-Olympics years, several organizations, public services and sports clubs were stationed in several available buildings at Hellenico. Nevertheless, its overall picture is that of sub-functioning and abandonment, following the same trail like the rest of the neglected Olympic properties.
Presently, tall grass and other indigenous plants have started covering the asphalt and concrete surfaces of the airport. The fenced Hellenico site with its potential untapped has been slowly reclaimed by nature. This reminder of natures dominating power displays a possible outcome through the lens of architecture and landscape ecology.
In March 2014 it was announced that the Greek Asset Development Fund (HRADF) granted Lamda Development with the redesign and management of Hellenico area. Previous to the latter proposal, Assistant Professor Nikos Belavilas and his team at the National Technical University Athens (School of Architecture) had been presenting to local people and authorities another version of Hellenico development. They suggested that a viable solution for the redevelopment of Hellenico would be a metropolitan park utilizing the existing infrastructure and facilities, hence lowering construction costs, with organized recreational activities embracing the surrounding communities and not alienating them. In a city that desperately needs more green spaces, Belavilas redefines Hellenico with the traits that could make an urban park successful.
According to Lamda Development’s proposed plans, the Hellenico site would be transformed into a tourist attraction with a casino, a luxurious tower hotel, shopping centers, marinas, recreational facilities and a park. The ambitious design is characterized as the biggest real estate project that has ever happened in Athens, and one of the biggest in Europe.
Those against Hellenico as a tourist destination are criticizing the means through which HRADF came to this decision, and as they say “the land was cheaply sold to cover a little interest of the Greek deficit.” It is also mentioned that projects of that scale almost never reach as high as minimum profits, and in most cases continue drawing governmental funds.
On the other hand, parks are not goldmines either and rely on government funding but they are a foremost improvement of the built environment contributing to citizens’ well being and aiding local economic prosperity.
Where would you rather live, close to a metropolitan park or next to a huge tourist attraction complex with a hotel and a casino?
Credits: Images by Chris Christou or linked to sources. Data linked to sources.