Transport, culture and regional development: the case of the Ionian Motorway and the town of Amfilochia, Western Greece
Stefanos Dodouras, PhD Med-INA, Sustainability Consultant

Regions and cities within them are largely dependent on their geographical position that deeply affects their relations with the outside world. The most pressing requirements of modern transport (e.g. low-cost, rapidity, security, environmental concerns, etc) have produced radical changes to different transport modes, i.e. rail, road, sea, air and inland waterways. These modes –formerly considered as largely self-contained individual nodes– are now regarded as integral parts of an interactive system.

The interfaces between transport systems and the regions within which they are located and those which they serve introduce different sets of relationships, which may reflect a variety of contexts (e.g. environmental, cultural, economic, etc) and a similar range of issues. Yet, complexities that characterise the transport sector by reason of its growing integration with other sectors of everyday life imply that transport can no longer be con-sidered as an independent variable of the ‘regional economics’ equation, but rather as an essential element of territorial organisation and development.

Major transport projects can act as catalysts for the regeneration of underdeveloped re-gions. Yet, whether the projected benefits are pragmatic, offset the costs and serve the needs of the local society, is not always conclusive. The new section of the Ionian Mo-torway in Amfilochia, Western Greece, is such a project, which aims to build confidently upon the local economy and target a number of multifaceted landscape issues.

The context

Regeneration projects differ from region to region and according to the role that cultural heritage plays in the establishment of development and rejuvenation strategies. In the USA, for example, waterfront plans are sometimes seriously conditioned by the historical remains of earlier city-ports. In Japan, the need to protect a historical legacy does not exist because city-ports have drastically changed their waterfront several times giving new shape to older spatial patterns (Kostopoulou, 1996). In the UK, the question is whether and to what extent older settlements maybe employed as a tool for creating new attractive waterfronts, e.g. the Manchester ship canal.

In Ireland, recent years have seen the construction of several transport projects with many implications in relation to development and preservation of national heritage sites, such as the motorway near the historic Hill of Tara (Bensen, 2010). In Italy, local citizens along with Italia Nostra, WWF and Landmark Trust tried –unsuccessfully– to stop the construction of the A31 Valdastico Motorway and prevent the countryside from being fur-ther destroyed, e.g. new commercial and industrial zones (Landmark News, 2006). In Greece, the transport plan for Attiki, which was formed in relation to the 2004 Olympics, was intensified by the lack of a coherent transport policy framework both at a national and local level, lack of transparency and weak financial arrangements (Dodouras, 2005).

In regions with unique cultural contexts, the essential objective should be to redevelop (adapt and promote) rather to rejuvenate. Amfilochia’s particular identity derives from its distinct natural and cultural characteristics, which survived through the successive trans-formations of the agricultural and urban grid. The Ionian Motorway is likely to contribute to the economic development of Western Greece and Epirus, two of the least developed regions in the EU, since these geographically isolated areas will have safer and quicker access to other Greek regions and the Greek capital. Given the recent ratification by the Greek Parliament (N3827/2010) of the European Landscape Convention, actions that en-sure the regular upkeep of landscapes within economic, environmental and socio-cultural perspectives should guide and harmonise changes related to the construction of the Ionian Motorway in Amfilochia.

The Ionian motorway in Amfilochia

‘Reading’ the landscape

The strategic geographical location of Amfilochia was always of huge economic and po-litical importance. Throughout history, the area was occupied by the Athenians, Spartans, Makedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and the Ottomans. In 1829, it was liber-ated by the Greeks. Towards the end of the 20th century slow socio-economic develop-ment led to mass migration to the main Greek urban centres and abroad.

Amfilochia owned its importance to its safe natural harbour and its position astride the main road from Epirus to the Peloponnese as it communicates with Amvrakikos Gulf to the North, with Lake Amvrakia to the East and with the eastern slopes of Mt. Platos to the West. The acropolis of ancient Limnaia (i.e. Amfilochia’s castle) is located in a small plateau among the hillsides of Mt. Thyamis and Mt. Platos. In spite of the declaration of the castle as a National Historical Site (Ministerial Decision 33595/3310/74/19-11-1976), uncontrolled access, new rural roads and pollution threaten this historical monument.

Lake Amvrakia is a biodiversity hotspot (NATURA 2000: GR2310007) being home to a number of endemic species of flora and fauna. However, the local morphology has been affected due to the partial drainage of the north –shallow– part of the lake. Amvrakikos Gulf is a complex ecosystem (NATURA 2000: GR2110001 and GR2110004) consisting of a number of coastal hydro-biotopes, e.g. rivers, reed beds, lagoons, etc. However, the gulf’s ecological characteristics are at risk because of inadequate pollution control and water management schemes (EKBY et al. 2002; Bearzi et al. 2008).

‘New element’ of the landscape
The Joint Ministerial Decision 141564/25-7-2005 approved the construction of the mo-torway along the western foothills of Mt. Thyamis and at a distance up to 95 m from the castle walls. This new plan was approved mainly because (a) the motorway is partly visi-ble from the town’s castle and outskirts, (b) it envisages the construction of a hard shoulder –covered by natural meadows– rather than a 560 m tunnel, (c) no further engineering works that may cause nuisance and pollution are required (e.g. excavations, external landscaping, demolitions, etc) and (d) it enables the passing motorists to enjoy and appreciate the area’s unique landscapes. On the negative side, this new plan saw the relocation of the construction site within a protected area.

The Ionian Motorway in Amfilochia can act as a ‘self-guided virtual tour’ to the area’s natural and cultural heritage. Thus, strategic interventions should, inter alia, focus on new land use patterns that could alter landscape character, mitigation measures related to adverse –air, noise and visual– impacts, restoration plans regarding potential altera-tions to water bodies, soil condition (e.g. compaction, contamination) during construction or reinstatement, road signing and tourist viewpoints. As such, a report conducted by TPA Consulting Group (2010) on behalf of the Draganos S.A. Construction Company summarises a number of key interventions, such as:

Rest/parking areas, i.e. safe and secure areas along the motorway to enable passing motorists to appreciate the region’s natural and cultural heritage.
‘Cultural’ pathway, i.e. a carefully designed environment for browsing the castle to increase awareness of its historical significance and the area’s inspiring landscapes.
(c) Maintenance works, i.e. refurbishment of the eastern part of the castle walls to im-prove its visibility and use of night lighting (i.e. eco-friendly alternative energy sources, Law 3468/2006) to promote one of the region’s most significant landmarks.
(d) Noise barriers, i.e. appropriate type, location and height to blend into the surround-ings and bring noise down to the recommended levels (Joint Ministerial Decision 13586/724/2006 and EU Directive 2002/49/EU).
(e) Archaeological assessment, i.e. given that a number of Roman tombs have been found in the vicinity, this assessment should be based on methods –already used by the Institute of Mediterranean Studies– that include geophysical prospection, satellite remote sensing, GIS, 3D reconstructions, thematic mapping, etc.
(f) Planted areas, i.e. planting of indigenous species of locally occurring flora (e.g. oaks, pines, arbutus, etc.), accompanied by proper landscaping initiatives.
(g) Slope treatment, i.e. geotechnical design of slopes, stabilisation works and erosion control to cope with any land stability issues of this pasture-covered site.
(h) Lake Amvrakia’s drainage system, i.e. construction of a small artificial reservoir to supply water to the northern part of this –important for agriculture, livestock, wildlife and recreation– wetland.

When it comes to managing major transport projects, there is a need to think strategically about their mainstream processes, monitor the work being undertaken, and determine the types of impacts. This cannot be done by relying on short-term, rear-view development policies. Regeneration has often been confused with economic development, but while the latter is essential, in itself it does not constitute regeneration. Urban places and transport systems are continuously changing, changes contribute to the complexity of issues and this, in turn, implies that major regeneration projects should not be viewed as merely fiscal problems. Rather, they require concerted efforts across disciplinary fronts.

The links between motorway transport systems, regional socio-cultural issues and emerg-ing environmental agendas, call for integrated approaches. The split of cultural and natu-ral heritage functions runs counter to the dominant European trend towards a more inte-grated approach to heritage policy and management. Regarding the Ionian Motorway in Amfilochia, there is a need for greater co-ordination and collaboration between govern-ment, regional authorities and local people, for capacity building and improvement in awareness levels of Amfilochia’s heritage.


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