Imagine how different Athens, Greece would be, if there was a river, or two, complementing the urban environment. “But there is one!” some might say, there is Kifissos River, even though it may not be like the River Thames in London or the Seine, Paris.
Kifissos River flows through the Athenian Basin. Various archaeological findings and historical references reveal the importance of the river.
Parenting a dense stream network, Kifissos is the main rainwater collector of Athens. During the city's early growth, industrial zones were built along the river banks. After years of bad management and poor decisions from successive governments, Kifissos became polluted; houses and asphalt roads covered its streams, deteriorating the river’s ecosystem.
Today, Kifissos is an urban stream channelled near or under major roads, a typical example of the state’s indifference and non-existent sustainability in urban design.
The river has an unpredictable behavior due to changes in water flow, which constantly threaten to flood the surrounding areas. Only since 2002, with the creation of "Φορέα Διαχείρισης&Ανάπλασης Κηφισού," "Kifissos Management & Restoration Agency," has the river been consistently monitored. The flood control and road construction along and on the river’s delta area, in 2004, utterly degraded its lower part.
The upper part of the Kifissos is frequently polluted and seen as more of an open sewer than an actual river, even though there are laws protecting the river and creating zones of importance. Usually forsaken by local residents, a few garbage gathering efforts are the only notable actions taken by local municipalities. Lately, proposals for rejuvenating the river’s ecosystem, construction of recreational facilities and other landscape designs are common among the city’s scientific community, with most favorable the creation of Kifissos Metropolitan Park. This perspective is described as a utopian scenario but is raising awareness of the river’s environment.
Kifissos still has a far upper/northern part, of significant environmental value.
On the eastern side of the Athenian Basin is - or was - Ilissos River. A tributary to Kifissos, Ilissos is another example of how anthropogenic impact changes the properties of land surface. Its shallow waters are following a path through an area which was densely populated, in a relatively small period of time (early 1900s). Victimized by urban sprawl, it was forced to underground channeling and from there to oblivion. A sample of its existence remains in a city central area next to a church (Agia Fotini, Vathrakonisi).
Considering the fate of most Athenian streams, either turned to sewers or reclaimed as building lots, I try to imagine how different Athens would be if roads and houses weren't built inside streams and if legislation about the rivers protection had been put into practice. I wish for Kifissos not to meet the same fate as Ilissos, not to be treated as a sewer and to instead become a friendly river bank park.
In other words, imagine how different Athens would be, if sustainable environmental design was the protagonist in this tale of two rivers.
What is the tale of your city’s river? Could you suggest actions which might improve the current conditions?
Credits: Images by Valia Stavrianidi. Data linked to sources.