New Park Space for an Old City

After 3,400 years, Athens will soon get its first large urban park. When completed in 2030, Ellinikon Metropolitan Park will be 600 acres (243 ha), about three-fourths the size of New York City’s Central Park, an enormous addition of green space.

2 minute read

August 31, 2023, 7:00 AM PDT

By bwidness


Fanis Grammenos / Athens, Greece

After 3,400 years, Athens will soon get its first big park.

Athens has been home to a lot of great firsts over the years—democracy, theater, and the Olympics—to name only a few. But the city somehow missed out on one of Western Civilization’s best inventions: the large public park.

That is about to change. When completed in 2030, Ellinikon Metropolitan Park will be 600 acres (243 ha), about three-fourths the size of New York City’s Central Park, an enormous addition of public green space that may prove as important to Athenians as Central Park is to New Yorkers.

But that is where the similarities end. As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus might have observed, you cannot build the same park twice. Though like Central Park, Ellinikon Metropolitan Park will have plenty of trees, ponds, and fountains, with every element of the landscape designed to fit a very different circumstance—an unusual site in an unusual Mediterranean city in an era of climate change.

Even financing the park’s development demanded creativity, given that the government spent most of the last decade digging out of a deep financial crisis that at one point had thrown one in four Greeks out of work.

Challenge as Opportunity

Michael Grove of Sasaki Associates, the park’s chief landscape architect, says that the site “presented us with challenges that we really read as opportunities,” including leftover venues from the 2004 Summer Olympics and remnants of the old Athens International Airport, which closed in 2001.

Among the Olympic castoffs was an excavated space where the canoe and kayak races had been held, which could be repurposed into a 3.6-acre (1.4 ha) lake. The old airport terminal was a building with architectural character—one of three in the world designed by the modernist architect Eero Saarinen, who also designed Dulles International Airport in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., and what is now the JetBlue terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, according to Grove, chair of landscape architecture, civil engineering, and ecology of the Boston-headquartered firm. That could be used as an event space.

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