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Construction has begun on a "smart city" three times the size of Monaco, which its developers hope will become a prototype for sustainable development across the world.

Costing a total of €8.5 billion and covering an area of around 6.2 million square meters, Ellinikon is one of the largest urban development projects on the globe today. When finished, the project will combine thousands of permanent residences, shopping centers, and a commercial hub, all built surrounding a 600-acre public park. While framed by its developers as an paradigm of smart and sustainable urban planning, some experts have cast doubt on whether Ellinikon can meet these lofty aspirations.

What is a Smart City?

Lamda Development, the Greek developers behind Ellinikon, have called the project "Europe's largest sustainable smart city,"

By this, they mean a city – in this case within another city – that is designed and built with both its inhabitants and the surrounding environment in mind.

"The project is being developed with a focus on smart sustainable city principles," Lamda said, "incorporating the most advanced technologies and carbon neutral practices."

Linked to this is the idea of what Lamda termed a "zip code paradise," or "15 minute city."

"It's a genuine 15-minute city within a city, designed to ensure that all residential areas, parks, beaches, sports, leisure and entertainment venues, educational facilities, hospitality options, and health services are all easily accessible within a short walk," Lamda told Newsweek.

How Far Along Is Ellinikon?

In 2014, Lamda Development, one of Greece's largest real estate investors, won the government bid to redevelop the abandoned Hellinikon airport on the Athenian coast.

However, Lamda said that due to the country's economic crisis, development rights were not formally transferred until 2021, at which point construction began.

Phase one of construction, which includes the creation of a new public beach, the Ellinikon Park, transport infrastructure and residential developments, is expected to complete by late 2026 to early 2027, Lamda told Newsweek, and will cost around $3.6 billion.

When asked how it intends to source the €8.5 billion total investment needed for the entire Ellinikon project, Lamda said that the project was self-financed, with a great deal of the necessary capital coming from pre-sold residences at Ellinikon.

As of June 7, 60% of Ellinikon's "Little Athens" neighborhood, a recently announced district with approximately 1,115 residences, has been reserved by buyers.

In addition, all 170 residences in Riviera Tower, which go for an average price of €3.6 million, have been pre-sold.

In Ellinikon's Commerical Hub, which will span around 2 million square miles, preliminary agreements have already been signed for 70% of leasable space.

"Market demand for the residential and commercial spaces launched to date has far exceeded supply, with over 8,000 potential buyers currently on a waiting list," Lamda told Newsweek.

The U.S. Company Hard Rock is also investing €1 billion to develop a resort and casino at Ellinikon.

What Will Be The Impact of Ellinikon?

Based on "scale, budget and impact," Lamda described Ellinikon as Europe's "greatest urban regeneration project."

According to a statement from Lamda, "after a decade-long economic crisis that wiped off a quarter of the country's GDP, Ellinikon serves as a testament to Greece's resurgence post-debt crisis and renewed investor enthusiasm."

According to a statement from Lamda, "after a decade-long economic crisis that wiped off a quarter of the country's GDP, Ellinikon serves as a testament to Greece's resurgence post-debt crisis and renewed investor enthusiasm."

The project has also been built with sustainability in mind, and the 600-acre public park at the centre of Ellinikon will "increase amount of green space in the Athens metropolitan area by 44%."

In response to questions from Newsweek, Lamda said it intends for Ellinikon to "serve as a prototype for responsible development that can be replicated globally."

Ellinikon is one of many megadevelopment projects trying to frame itself as at once smart, sustainable, and environmentally friendly.

Neom, the much-vaunted brainchild of Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, was similarly pitched as the future of urban living.

However, work on the megaproject – and its flagship 105-mile linear city, The Line -has stalled due to mounting costs and engineering difficulties raised by the unique demands of its construction.

Newsweek spoke to infratsructure experts regarding Ellinikon, and asked whether the developers were being similarly naïve about the feasibility and impact of their smart city.

Loretta Lees is the director of Boston University's Initiative on Cities, a research center focused on urban transformations.

Regarding potential development blind spots, Lees said: "Given the extreme heat that Athens is experiencing there is little to no thought on how such developments can mitigate this - a massive flaw and indeed an economic risk for the developer,"

Lees also called the Ellinikon "yet another example of the mega-gentrification projects that are erupting around the world," when asked about how its high-value properties might impact the rest of the Athenian housing market.

"It may well act as a beachhead like many such projects do for gentrification around it and along the coast," Lees added. "Even if it does not directly displace people it will no doubt indirectly displace people, it will certainly exclude."

Michael Edwards, a lecturer at University College London's Bartlett School of Planning and Architecture, expressed similar concerns.

"In a city of gross inequalities, reinforced by international economic pressures, such a luxury development could do more harm than good while the planning and political situation is highly unlikely to extract much from the scheme for the benefit of the more deprived parts of the city," Edwards said.

Newsweek also spoke to Phoebe Koundouri, president of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists and chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network Global Climate Hub.

Koundouri said: "The Ellinikon project is a major urban regeneration project by any measure, and is unprecedented for Europe, not to mention Greece, and truly has the potential to be a shining example of the transformative power of urban regeneration done right."

Koundouri lauded Lamda for their "effort to incorporate the key tenets of sustainability" into Ellinikon. "The project will in fact to a large extent provide much needed urban green space for the city, and its buildings and infrastructure are designed to the highest standards of environmental sustainability."

"Without a doubt the utilization of a brown-field site which has been lying fallow for several years will not only add value to the area but also attract much needed investment to the Greek economy. In addition, it is clear that every effort has been made to respect the natural environment."

However, Koundouri issued similar warnings about the economic risks of Ellinikon.

"On one hand, there are the risks associated with gentrification and concerns about whether locals will continue to be able to afford to live in the area with surrounding property values predicted to undergo a major hike. On the other, the infrastructural pressure that comes with building what is essentially a new city within the metropolitan region of Athens is immense," Koundouri told Newsweek.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Hugh Cameron

Quelle/Source: Newsweek, 27.06.2024

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