The Ellinikon Park is set to redefine urban living—and will put Athens on the atlas when it comes to sustainability-focused urban regeneration

If you flew into Athens before 2001, you would have landed at the Ellinikon International Airport, a strip of tarmac bordered by the shimmering Aegean Sea to the west and the brushy hills that form the spine of the Attica Peninsula to the east. More than 20 years after being replaced by the larger, inland Athens International Airport, the former transport hub and surrounding area are undergoing an ambitious redesign that will put the Greek capital on the atlas when it comes to sustainability-focused urban regeneration.

While investors based in Asia tend to look closer to home when buying property—the Greater Bay Area and Southeast Asia being particularly popular—Greece is increasingly of interest to those looking to expand their real estate portfolio.

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An aerial shot of the Ellinikon park, which will combine native species of plants with 50km of walkways and cycle lanes
Above An aerial shot of the Ellinikon park, which will combine native species of plants with 50km of walkways and cycle lanes

Developments such as The Ellinikon will contribute to that appeal. This is an €8 billion (US$8.3 billion) redevelopment project encompassing 620 hectares of land—roughly eight times the size of Beijing’s Forbidden City—located in the Elliniko suburb about 10km south of central Athens. What
was once barbed wire fences, fuel-contaminated soil and vast swathes of concrete will eventually become a new district for living and leisure. Phase one is due to be finished within five years, with full completion in approximately 20 years. It will be built around a 200 hectare park, boosting Athens’ relatively low percentage of green spaces by European standards and promoting diversity with more than 1 million plants and 31,000 new trees from 86 different tree species, irrigated using collected rainwater and recycled wastewater. An estimated 85,000 jobs will be created, adding 2.4 per cent to Greece’s gross domestic product.

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A scale model of the Ellinikon inside the Ellinikon Experience Centre
Above A scale model of the Ellinikon inside the Ellinikon Experience Centre

“The map is about to change,” said Giannis Konstantatos, mayor of Elliniko. “This will give the area a great boost: for income, for jobs and for us to claim a place in the world of tourism.”

The development will be populated by a mix of homes, offices, schools, healthcare, sports and culture facilities, and retail, hospitality and leisure venues, including a luxury hotel, a mixed-use tower, Greece’s first skyscraper and its largest shopping centre, an athletics precinct, a casino, 50km of walking and cycling routes, and a new metro station connecting the district to the heart of the capital in 20 minutes. Parts of the old airport such as the runway are being broken up and reused onsite, while the Eero Saarinen-designed building of the former airport’s East Terminal, once symbolic of the jetset era and the gateway to Greece, will be turned into a place of cultural interest and an exhibition centre.

The project’s €2.5 billion first phase includes two hotels, shopping and dining destinations, villas and apartments, a residential high-rise, a rejuvenated 310-berth marina, a public beach, and the majority of the park. At 200m, The Riviera Tower will be Greece’s tallest building, comprising 49 storeys of one- to five-bedroom luxury residences designed by Foster + Partners, the lead architects. The building, which required special permission due to strict Greek rules regarding building height, has been designed with LEED certification in mind, as have all buildings in the Ellinikon. The apartments within will be smart, leveraging the internet of things, where appliances across the home and features like temperature and lighting are digitally integrated and controlled. There will be an estimated total of 10,000 residential units which, like the rest of the Ellinikon, are planned to be powered entirely by renewable energy.

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Odisseas Athanasiou, CEO of Lamda Development
Above Odisseas Athanasiou, CEO of Lamda Development

“The Ellinikon Park is more than a large, green park. It is a new proposal that introduces a new way of life to Greece and the world; a proposal where nature, people and the most advanced applications of technology will coexist harmoniously,” Odisseas Athanasiou, the CEO of Lamda Developments, the developer behind the project, says.

The project has already drawn awkward comparisons to Hong Kong’s former Kai Tak airport, the site of which was enticingly slated for redevelopment into the city’s largest park with housing for 320,000 people, schools, a hospital, a stadium and a museum in the late 90s, but now, more than 20 years later, is maligned as an inaccessible and badly planned space, noted for its cruise ship terminal, limited and unaffordable housing, and a land sale that broke the city’s price records.

Although there is no universally accepted definition of “green city”, clean technology, access to green spaces that support biodiversity, and a layout that facilitates mobility are three of the main tenets of sustainable urban planning. In 2018, the United Nations set “sustainable cities and communities” as one of the 17 goals on its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to meet the challenges of the world’s population becomi