The Future Face of Paros
by Katerina Kantartzis, July 2007
On the 16th June, the Municipality of Paros and the Federation of Parian Societies co-organised a presentation with the general theme of “Residential development and the protection of the environment and appearance of Paros” at the Nireas Cultural Centre in Naoussa.
Various experts in the field were invited to talk on the subject and the list of speakers was truly impressive. A short introduction by the Mayor of Paros, Yiannis Rangoussis, revealed his ideas and plans for the future of the island. He started his speech by highlighting the problem of huge villas being built, often illegally, as second homes or holiday houses on the island, a phenomenon intensified by the fact that high speed ferries now make the journey to Paros much quicker and therefore attract weekend visitors more than ever before. The Mayor – and all the other speakers who followed – discussed the problem of illegal building and the consequent defacing of Paros and all the islands of the Aegean. Having discussed all the negative aspects of a rapidly developing economy which is heavily dependent both upon the building industry as well as tourism, on the islands in general and Paros more specifically, the Mayor went on to say how he planned to address these issues.
The idea of zoning the island was supported by many of the speakers and members of the audience. Setting aside specific areas where building development is allowed, shopping is allowed, and so on, was presented as a possible way to overcome the mass construction taking place today. The existing law which limits building on plots less than 8 stremma was regarded by all as a positive step forward, as it makes building outside residential communities harder. The attempt to make Paros self-sustainable by implementing up to 100 windmills providing renewable energy was also presented by the Mayor as a positive step for the island. Other suggestions he made were to provide an overall planning strategy for Paros, rather than the scattered building and development which is happening at the moment. This plan will also help to preserve traditional shops – for example by providing incentives to people who keep to the traditional methods of building; this goes for shops and shop windows, petrol stations and other such assets.
Already, positive steps in the maintenance of Paros’s environment have been made by the recycling and electric car programmes being introduced to the island. However, although the mass building taking place is not thought of as a good thing, it is unrealistic, says the Mayor, to believe that building will cease altogether. So the question remains as to what amount and what kind of building is acceptable? Small houses that maintain the traditional structure are fine, but the mass construction of beachside villas is not; private communities/settlements are also not desirable. The Mayor also pointed out that decisions regarding the control of development need to be taken within the next year if we are to avoid completely altering the appearance of the island.
The first guest speaker following Mr Rangoussis was Nikos Sifounakis, Member of the European Parliament and former Minister of the Aegean. The title of his talk was “Overdevelopment of the islands leads to economic, social and cultural degradation”. Mr Sifounakis made the point of the rapid economic development in Greece over the past 20 years or so. This, he claims, has lead to a reduction in quality of services and a change in appearance which results in a loss of tradition. Using Kolymbithres as a prime example because the building of cafes, bars, hotels and so on took place in this area without planning, he pointed out how a lack of structure can spoil an area of natural beauty.
With regard to tourism, Mr Sifounakis stated that 75% of Greek tourists go to the islands and the majority of those visit the Cyclades. However, despite the increase in tourists, there has not been an analogous increase in income from tourism. This may be due to the fact that the tourist period has decreased dramatically over the years, perhaps because the tourists now visiting Greece are those on budget holidays who are not spending as much as they used to.
Mr Sifounakis strongly advocates that borders of towns must not be extended, and building outside towns must only be allowed in exceptional circumstances, such as for farming and storage facilities. He also places himself in a position strongly opposing zoning plans, claiming that these will lead to the defacing of Paros and of Greece in general.
Speaking about “the viability of small islands”, Michail Dekleris, President of the Environment and Viability Chamber, former Vice-president of the State Council (Symvoulio Epikrateias), began his speech claiming that what is taking place at the moment in Greece, and in the islands in particular, is not the reasonable development one could expect over time, but rather an overall “expansion” – a disproportionate increase in the size and in the areas covered by buildings. Making reference to the Ancient Greeks, he said we must follow their example and respect the environment while simultaneously pursuing sustainable growth. He promotes living in harmony with nature; however, he says humans at the moment are acting like an environmental parasite, offering absolutely nothing in return for exhausting the earth’s resources. Mr Dekleris supports zone planning, as he believes it will promote a balanced co-existence between humans and the environment.
Discussing tourism, he encourages “quality tourism”; however, he judges some forms of this harshly, using golf courses as an example. Though these can be very successful in terms of the large incomes they provide and the type of tourists they attract, it is, however, unrealistic to provide golf courses in Greece because the water they need is more than we can afford to provide. The general message he was trying to convey was that we can only work within our “natural” limits. A point emphasized by Mr Dekleris was that the world is now aiming for sustainable development, and forming a plan to control the environmental crisis taking place and ensure human survival is what everyone should be doing. Sustainable growth, he said, protects or increases the natural and social capital of humanity. He went on to say that sustainable growth is impossible without a sustainable government. Interestingly Mr Dekleris is actually against the implementation of windmills as a renewable energy source, as he claims they are too large, and the numbers needed to keep Paros self-sustainable would completely deface the island’s beautiful landscapes.
The third speaker was Kriton Arsenis, head of the programme for sustainable development in the Aegean for The Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and the Cultural Heritage (Elliniki Etairia Prostasias Perivallontos kai Politistikis Klironomias). The topic of his talk was “Tourism or summer housing in Paros? Experiences from the Mediterranean”. Mr Arsenis gave a very interesting presentation of the development of Paros, Greece and Mediterranean Europe in general. He compared Paros to other places that are seen as tourist attractions, and it became immediately apparent that Paros is in fact nowhere near as developed as some holiday destinations. He also pointed out that since Greece entered the EU it has become more expensive, meaning that fewer tourists are choosing Greece for their holiday destination. He suggested that giving presentations and holding discussions with children in the Paros community was an effective way of getting suggestions about what can be done with the land and tourism in general. Children, he claims, have no extraneous benefits from mass tourism, giving them the ability to have a much “purer” point of view of what should happen. He went on to point out that Paros as a community should attempt to engage tourists who are interested in discovering different cultures, rather than tourists who attempt to make the island accommodate their own needs. This would mean that traditional Paros farming, such as oil, vines and cheese, would not be extinct in a few years, and would maintain the culture of the island. Backpackers, walkers and other such “alternative” tourists should be encouraged to visit Paros; this would hopefully extend the tourist period, and maybe even attract visitors year round. This would maintain the tradition, culture and customs of the island, without loosing the valuable income brought by tourists.
The fourth speaker was Mrs Maraka-Roumanou, an architect, and President of the Department of Zoning and Environment of the Greek National Tourism Organisation (EOT). She again highlighted the problems tourism causes to the environment such as the over-use of natural resources, pollution, a decrease in farming and a lack of structure. Mrs Maraka-Roumanou suggested that we need to find a balance between tourism and the environment; always taking natural resources into account and using them so that we do not need to import additional resources to support our consumerism. She highlighted the need for a so-called “marketing strategy”, to decide who our “consumer” is or what type of tourist Paros is trying to accommodate. She also suggested that a plan should be laid down covering what resources are available: such as how much water, what rubbish and how many cars Paros can support as an independent island, and then only allow the island to develop up to those defined limits.
The next speaker was Mrs Eleni Maistrou from the Architectural School E.M.P., speaking on the subject “Development and Protection of Historical Settlements”. Mrs Maistrou started off by saying that any development made must sustain the archaeology of the island, similarly the face of the community must also not be spoiled; maintaining its traditional look is very important. The work she and her post-graduate students have done has shown that changing homes into hotels or rooms to let, and choosing not to comply with building laws (either deliberately or through ignorance) has meant that many areas of Greece have suffered a loss of character. This has led to an overuse of natural systems, an increase in waste products and the destruction of ecosystems. What she proposed to overcome these issues was similar to Mrs Maraka-Roumanou, suggesting that by looking at natural environments and reaching certain limits, the overbuilding of islands can be avoided. Only absolutely necessary construction should take place and some protected zones must be clearly marked, which will remain undeveloped. Her final point was that we have now forgotten the original building style used on the islands, and this needs to be re-introduced, and re-learned in order to avoid completely changing the beautiful traditional look of the islands, and in particular Paros.
Making similar points, Nikos Chrisogelos conducted his talk around the title of “The problem of uncontrolled development of the islands and the need for a viable island political life”. Mr Chrisogelos is president of the Mesogeios SOS network. The importance of reducing the amount of waste created on Paros was strongly emphasized and the fact that Greece actually currently produces more waste per person than the United States!! This problem needs to be addressed immediately, and Mr Chrisogelos also emphasized the need not only for a plan to be put in place, but for it to be implemented without delay. We can not, he says, continue at this rate; Unlike the mainland, being an island means that there are natural limits to Paros’s resources, and we are just not able to cope with an ever-increasing demand on the environment.
The final speaker was Vasilis Dorovilis, a lawyer and Vice-president of The Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and the Cultural Heritage. The title of his talk was “The Treaty of Aarhus and protection of the environment”; the society being an active participant in the ecoforum for the implementation of this treaty regarding making environmental information available to citizens (see http://www.ellinikietairia.gr ).
A particularly interesting point made by Mr Dorovilis is the need and, indeed, the right, that people have to know about the environment. He believes it is the government’s obligation to properly inform its citizens. As we all know, he said, there is a complete lack of participation on the part of ordinary citizens in environmental protection issues, and this needs to change. Another very interesting point he made was how in most cases local and historical environments cannot be divided, which will create difficulties in implementing a zoning plan.
An open forum session was held at the end of the day, during which it was noted that Paros is actually at the top of the list for the amount of building taking place – that is, the number of square meters built on Paros in the last year was higher than on any other island. Another interesting fact mentioned was that statistics show that half of the buildings on Paros were actually built after 1970, which illustrates the fact that very few buildings on the island are built in the original, traditional style. These last statistics and facts were quoted by a representative of the e-magazine Euploia (http://eyploia.aigaio-net.gr/) who were also present at the seminar.
The general conclusion that seems to have been reached by the end of the day was optimistic, although it was recognized that there remains a great deal of work to be done to address the issues of overdevelopment.
What is most encouraging is that these critically important matters for the future of Paros are being openly discussed, expert opinions are being sought, and events such as this one are taking place. All of which will promote further discussion and generate additional ideas to preserve the natural beauty and resources of our island.