The idea of transforming Panepistimiou Street into a pedestrian zone had been conceived before 1985. This intervention has been included not only in the guidelines of the current 1985 Organizational Plan for Athens (Article 3, Law 1515/85) but also in the proposals for the new Organizational Plan, which is still being implemented. The revival of the city center along the axis of Panepistimiou Street has been examined professionally and systematically since 2009 under the joint initiative of the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change and the Organization for Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens within the framework of the “ATHENS-ATTICA 2014” Program.
The publicizing of the intervention has been constant ever since and its preparation has been intensive and multifaceted. The proposal for the “Transformation of Panepistimiou Street into an axis of public transportation, bicycle use and promenade” was officially announced by the Ministry during the presentation of the program “ATHENS-ATTICA 2014” in June 2010 and was included in the goals of the issue that was published. Since then, Panepistimiou Street closed down vehicle traffic twice, in order to perform conditions studies and to promote the intentions of the upcoming project.
The intervention and the framework of implementation of this project are based on the required solid, in-depth study of the environmental, economic, social and cultural conditions and possibilities at all levels: scientific/research, technical and institutional. The project is feasible and simple in terms of construction while all of the intervention’s consequences and effects upon the city will be dealt with as well. It has gained the support of the Government and of the majority of political parties and it is estimated that it will be incorporated within 2013 in co-funded European Projects as a complete strategic intervention in the city. A small part of the estimated construction cost refers to surface works, while the rest refers to the expense for the creation of important traffic infrastructure within the city.
Regarding the preparation of the project so far, the following have been completed:
· The Ministry of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport & Networks (then named Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport & Networks), regarded the intervention as both important and strategic and agreed with the proposal from the beginning, while the project was also presented to the Mayor of Athens Mr. G. Kaminis, who responded very positively (February 2010).
· In May 2010, the Ministry of Environment, Energy & Climate Change assigned to the National Technical University of Athens the development of a research project entitled “Investigation of the possibility of the exclusive use of Panepistimiou Street by public transportation, pedestrians and cyclists” in order to establish all issues relating to the intervention in terms of both city issues and of transportation, following a Programmatic Agreement amounting to 286,000 Euros, which was funded by the Special Fund for the Implementation of Regulatory and Town Plans (ETERPS-Green Fund). The research program, headed by Prof. Matthaios Carlaftis, was completed with priority and its results confirmed the feasibility of the project.
· In August 2010 a second Programmatic Agreement with the National Technical University of Athens followed, amounting to 196,000 Euros, regarding the development of a research project that would examine and evaluate the current troublesome situation encountered in the centers of Athens and Piraeus; this study was also funded by the Green Fund. The program was entitled “Mutating characters and policies in the centers of the city of Athens and Piraeus” and Professor Panagiotis Tournikiotis served as academic coordinator. This program formed the basis and defined the framework of the architectural competition; it is considered one of the richest and most complete of its kind and remains a valuable contemporary recording of the many problematic issues of the central metropolitan area.
·Within the framework of the “ATHENS-ATTICA 2014” Program, an architectural competition for the intervention was planned by the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens S.A., a body that supported the project in many ways and due to their expertise, participated in the preparatory meetings, prepared the symbolic closing of Panepistimiou twice in awareness of the upcoming venture, participated in the preparations for the recognition of traffic related issues and recorded and compiled the existing topographic backgrounds within the study area, in order to identify the areas that required a data update or the creation of new topographic plans.
· The proposal was based on a complete traffic and urban study implemented by the Organization for Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens, in collaboration with the following collaborating bodies with which an intensive series of meetings took place for the realization of the project: Road Construction Studies Administration (DMEO) of the Ministry of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport & Networks, Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens S.A., the Athens Urban Transport Organization and administrative representatives of the Athens-Trolley and Tram Bodies (that later merged into one body under the name Urban Rail Transport S.A.). At the end of 2010 the President of the Organization Prof. Giannis Polizos, presented the framework of the intervention in relation to the new Organizational Plan for Athens as well as the basic elements regarding traffic and transportation organization for the “Re-organization of the city centre along the axis of Panepistimiou Street” to the Minister of Environment, Energy & Climate Change Ms. Tina Birbili.
· Aiming at a more complete, faster and effective promotion of the issues regarding this project, a Committee was formed, which met on a regular basis. When necessary, these meetings were also attended by the Ministers of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport & Networks and of Environment, Energy & Climate Change. Members of the Committee were the advisors of the said Ministers, the President and Vice-President of the Organization for Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens, the General Secretary for Regional Planning and Urban Development of the Ministry of Environment, Energy & Climate Change, the Director of Special Area Update Projects (DEEAP) in Athens of the Ministry of Environment, Energy & Climate Change, the Head of the Department of Special Agency for the Environment, the President and the Director of the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens S.A., the Ministry of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport & Networks represented by the two General Secretaries and the relevant Directors, the President and the Director of Studies of Attiko Metro S.A., the President and the Director of the Athens Urban Transport S.A., the pertinent Deputy Mayor of the Municipality of Athens as well as a representative of the Mayor, the Deputy Prefect and the General Director of Public Works on behalf of the Region of Attika, as well as a special traffic specialist.
·The aforesaid Committee met with representatives of the area’s vendors, entrepreneurs and hoteliers, to fill them in and register their views on this issue. An extensive presentation of the expected project and of the said meetings’ conclusions followed, to the Mayor of Athens Mr. G. Kaminis.
·On March 4th 2011, a Memorandum of Agreement was signed with regard to the project, by the Ministers of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks, of Environment, Energy & Climate Change and of Culture & Tourism, together with the Organization for Planning and Environmental Protection of Athens, Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens S.A., ATTIKO METRO S.A. and Athens Urban Transport Organization, all of which will contribute in accordance with their jurisdiction and expertise.
· In April 2011, Mrs. Tina Birbili, then Minister of Environment, Energy & Climate Change, addressed a request to the President of the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation Mr. Anthony Papadimitriou, proposing that the Foundation assumes the responsibility for the funding of the Competition and of the necessary studies for the implementation of the project. On May 26th 2011, the President of the Foundation Mr. A. Papadimitriou officially informed Mrs. Birbili of the Board of Directors of the Foundation’s decision to fund the Competition and the necessary studies so that the project is incorporated into a European funding program as early as possible. The Onassis Foundation embraced this effort, by organizing and funding the European Architectural Competition together with the architectural studies, the promotion of the project in Greece and abroad, as well as the required topographical, tram line and environmental studies. The Foundation also agreed to assist Attiko Metro SA - who took over as project manager – with the funding of the transportation study, by covering the fee of a hired external collaborator.
· By suggestion of the Ministry of Environment, Energy & Climate Change, Law 4014/2011 Article 29, is complemented by adding article 2a to article 2 of Law 3316/2005 allowing the implementation of studies for public construction projects, the cost of which can be borne by natural persons or legal entities, to be then donated to the Greek State. The article also included a description of the terms, procedures, approval bodies etc.
· On March 21st 2012, the Foundation announced the open European Architectural Competition at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, in the presence of the then Prime Minister Mr. L. Papadimos, Ministers of the directly-involved as well as of other Ministries, the Head of the New Democracy Party, the Mayor of Athens, the Head of the Region of Attika, as well as representatives of political parties, Associations and Chambers, special scientists and members of the Press.
· On May 11th 2012, the required Ministers Joint Decision - based on the aforementioned Law - was published in the Greek Government Gazette (issue n. 1648) announcing the approval for the implementation of studies for the Program “Rethink Athens – Towards a New City Centre” in which the Ministers of Environment, Energy & Climate Change Mr. G. Papakonstantinou and of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport, & Networks. Mr. M. Voridis and Deputy Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change Mr. N. Sifounakis define all of the issues relevant to the Competition, the studies that will follow right after the selection of the winning proposal, the supervision of the studies by the pertinent General Secretaries of both Ministries, the formation of a Supervision & Approval Committee comprising representatives of the relevant Ministries, Attiko Metro SA, the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens S.A., etc. This Ministers Joint Decision describes – in relation to the required studies for the authorization of the project - all of the architectural and topographical studies, the environmental consequences and tram line extension studies, as well as the transportation studies for which the Onassis Foundation will be offering support to Attiko Metro SA that is implementing them, by covering the fee of a hired external collaborator.· On May 16th 2012, the signing of a Collaboration Agreement for the “Rethink Athens” Program was announced, co-signed by the Onassis Foundation, the Ministries of Environment, Energy & Climate Change and of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport, & Networks and Attiko Metro S.A. Furthermore, a Memorandum of Collaboration was signed with regard to the implementation of the studies of the Program “Re-organization of the Athens City Centre on the axis of Panepistimiou Street”, between the Foundation and the Region of Attika and another one with the Municipality of Athens, with the latter participating with a representative in the Competition’s Jury.
· The content of the Competition Notice was determined according to the Joint Ministers Decision (Government Gazette issue n. 1648), taking into account the Ministers Decision 26804 of the Ministry of Environment, Energy & Climate Change on the issue of architectural competitions, amended on 4/05/2012. (Government Gazette issue n. 1494/4-05-2012). The content of the Competition Notice was partly based on a draft text composed by the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens S.A. which was later adjusted to include issues that were stated in the relevant research programs and by the corresponding Services and Bodies with regard to the project.
· The Competition’s Juries were formed based on the provisions of the aforementioned Joint Ministers Decision and the general provisions of the 26804 Minister Decision of the Ministry of Environment, Energy & Climate Change (article 12 para. 3 and article 3 para. e) with regard to architectural competitions.
· The Competition’s Juries were formed based on the provisions of the aforementioned Joint Ministers Decision and the general provisions of the 26804 Minister Decision of the Ministry of Environment, Energy & Climate Change with regard to architectural competitions as amended (Government Gazette issue 1494/4-05-2012).
- 1st Stage - Competition of Ideas. Its beginning was announced on May 21st 2012 and the evaluation procedure which resulted in a shortlist of 9 entries out of the 71 that were initially submitted, was completed in October 2012.
- 2nd Stage - Concept Drawings Competition. Its beginning was announced in October 2012 and was completed in February 2013 with the final evaluation of the nine (9) shortlisted entries by the appointed international Jury that awarded the Prizes.
·On February 27th 2013, the Onassis Foundation announced the winner of the “Rethink Athens” European Architectural Competition in an event that took place at the Onassis Cultural Centre’s main hall, in the presence of representatives of all political parties. The latters’ speeches confirmed their consent towards the importance and the necessity of the project’s implementation. Minister of Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transportation and Networks Mr. K. Hatzidakis, made a public commitment for the prompt incorporation of the project into European co-funded programs before the end of 2013.
· From February 27th until March 10th 2013, all of the entries that were submitted to the Competition since its beginning, were exhibited at the Onassis Cultural Centre’s exhibition space, while from March 14th until March 26th 2013, the exhibition was presented at the multiple use space of the “Syntagma” Metro Station, so that Athenian citizens get acquainted with the winning proposal that will soon become a reality. Over 70,000 people visited both exhibitions, a fact that underlines the people’s interest in re-capturing the city’s centre.
· This intervention constitutes the backbone of other interventions that will be taking place in order to cope with the problems of the downgraded city center and the areas around it, creating multiple benefits for the wider city center area that extends up to the residential area of Ano Patissia. The aim is to offer Athens a competitive edge against all other European and international metropolises, as a city with a quality, optimistic and people-friendly profile.
· The Greek State and the Municipality of Athens have planned for more than this intervention alone. As mentioned earlier in this text, this intervention has been included together with others in the proposals that are being considered within the framework of the new Organizational Plan for Athens that is currently under preparation. At the same time, many other projects that already have secure funding, are being developed on behalf of the Region of Attika and the Municipality of Athens as well as of the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens S.A.(i.e the pedestrianization of Vassilissis Olgas avenue, the intervention at Theatrou Square etc). Also, in collaboration with the Municipality of Athens, a number of minor interventions all around Athens have been selected for their incorporation into the funding program of the Green Fund, while a number of other interventions have been suggested by the Municipality and the necessary studies for their implementation are in progress.
· Through the www.rethinkathens.org website and from the beginning of the Competition, the public has been offered the opportunity to submit comments and express views regarding the project, thereby contributing to many months of open discussion and exchange of ideas, while meetings were organized with representatives of multiple professional associations (Commerce, Hotels etc.) for this purpose on 16/06/2011, on 16/02/2012 and on 15/02/2013, so as to present the progress of the studies that are under preparation, all of which resulted in a fruitful dialogue. On March 21st 2013, the Onassis Foundation submitted for their information to the aforesaid, the technical report, resumes and work portfolio of OKRA LANDSCHAPSARCHITECTEN BV, winning architectural studio of the competition’s first prize that will be materializing the project, expecting their comments and suggestions that will be then brought to the attention of the winner.
· Soon, the Onassis Foundation will be organizing a presentation of the final traffic studies as well as of the decisions of Athens Urban Transport S.A.’s collaborating agencies regarding arrangements made for the operation of taxis and other vehicles on a case by case basis (catering, garbage disposal trucks, emergency vehicles - fire trucks, ambulances etc.).· Following the Competition and in an effort to publicly promote all issues relevant to public space design, the Onassis Foundation organized two venues at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, within the framework of the “Talks & Thoughts” open discussion series: “The Global City Today” (on October 15th 2012) and “Old Cities/New Projects: Rethinking Urbanity” (on March 5th 2013), with important lectures offered by Anthony Vidler, Richard Plunz, Vanessa Myriam Carlow and Alfredo Brillembourg.