CONSIDERED the “Father of Urban Planning”, Hippodamus of Miletos (498 BC – 408 BC) was the first city-planner to introduce the city grid plan: a quite revolutionary concept at its time!
A visionary, physician, mathematician and a philosopher he had achieved an impeccable, if not, eccentric reputation and set forth a new trend of urban planning for cities and communities alike. Most nations, particularly North America, use the grid system extensively, recognizing that it is one of the most efficient urban planning systems to this day.
Are today’s city-planners, blessed with such visionary talents in the scale of Hippodamus? The public’s perception affirms the view, that, the record of city-planners has certainly not been so successful… in fact it has been a complete letdown! A great number of projects across the island, especially in the area of Paphos, have turned out to be mishmash of ecologically inefficient concrete structures and certainly not in harmony with the environment.
non-transparency within the public sector
Because of non-transparency within the public sector, the “right to inform”, has also suffered due to the ongoing apathy of planners who refuse to respect citizens’ opinions. All planning decisions are taken in private and kept away from public scrutiny, unless one is influential and has political clout. Some of those influential groups are none other than Developers, Banks and their Solicitors.
the real estate industry has friends in high places
This privileged group has been given a free reign for years, and because of this cosy relationship the Cyprus property market – due to shady deals – has received a bad reputation. In the UK for example, angry property owners have publicly protested to highlight the fraudulent behaviour of a number of developers. The European Union is now in the process of investigating the situation. But this multifaceted billion-Euro real-estate industry, has friends in high places and powerful lobbies with a strong financial backing to grease the wheels and stop any opposition.
One of those contentious practices involves the matter of Title Deeds. It has been estimated that over 130,000 property buyers on the island do not have Deeds to their properties; certainly a disgraceful act indeed and should name and shame any government who has failed to resolve the issue so far. It’s easy to get in the habit of doing nothing, but to implement reforms that may jeopardize the cosy relationship between government and powerful Land Development Groups, it takes courage and determination: the one thing that is badly missing!
no public consultation
Anxious to reduce its enormous deficit, a frantic government has rushed through the licensing of 14 new golf courses to big-name developers with no public consultation beforehand. As an integral part to the “golf deal”, these developers and their banking partners, would be allowed to build luxurious resorts the size of small cities like the Limni Mines project, which shall offer over 1000 homes for sale; the Ha Patami project; Aphrodite Hills; and many other similar developments. No villas, no golf courses!
Under those terms, the government relaxed the zoning laws, so developers can build their villa-resorts on cheap worthless land and to stock up their “Land Banks”. But the truth of the matter is that most of these exclusive projects are specifically designed and aimed for the privileged outsiders; Cypriot homebuyers are not part of that equation!
water is dangerously scarce
Golf is a wonderful sport, but in a country where water is so dangerously scarce, developing these golf courses with hundreds of villas complete with swimming pools does not make ecological sense, but sheer madness! Adding to the dilemma, these resorts will certainly cause a serious strain on the local infrastructure, the water supply, hospitals, schools and other facilities. Yet, developers exonerate themselves and claim they have no social responsibility or accountability on such matters, but simply to build their resorts, sell them and move on!
Last year, Cyprus had to import water from Greece to keep the taps of the nation flowing thus exemplifying the need for a sustainable environmental policy. Over 1.2 billion poor people worldwide do not have access to clean water and building 14 extra golf courses for the super-rich, is absolutely a waste of valuable resources that Cyprus cannot really afford to squander.
A single golf course can use as much as 6,500 cubic meters of water per day, enough to service hundreds of homes. For the maintenance of its well-trimmed grass, the amount of pesticides used, it is estimated to be 12.0 kilos per acre, per year, in comparison to 1.2 kilos per acre used in agriculture. A small pool on the other hand, can hold as much as 70 cubic meters of water. There is also a greater danger looming; the possibility of contaminating the agriculture industry on spreading genetically modified organisms by using GMO grass.
creating a two-tier a them and us society
These private holiday resorts (offering villas between 2.5 – 5.0M Euros) in close proximity to local towns or neighbourhoods, could ultimately create a two-tier “them and us” society with unforeseeable social consequences. This kind of selective mass housing policy is not only discriminatory but also reminiscent to the old colonial days, were wealthy foreigners cocooned themselves in secured surroundings amongst their own, to enjoy their lavish lifestyle without any social consciousness towards the rest of the people.
On a positive note, it is recognized that in some progressive countries, developers are held responsible for the extra financial burden imposed upon the community due to their massive projects or housing complexes. By law, developers must fulfil their financial responsibility and social obligation, if not, their building permits may well be revoked.
If a similar fair-minded policy is adopted on the island, it is one positive step towards a sustainable urban strategy and could help to improve communities, the infrastructure, recreational and health centres as well as the long-term social and ecological health of the nation.
Most importantly, on such massive projects the government could introduce a policy for mixed housing projects, which shall include a percentage of homes to be allocated for Cypriots at affordable prices. Developers and banks cannot simply build for outsiders by ignoring the housing needs of the country. There are many arguments, pro and against such a revolutionary concept, but ultimately, the long-term prosperity of the nation surpasses corporate financial gains.
favouritism is a form of institutional corruption
Bending the rules to assist the Land Development Groups to secure permits for their huge developments, such as golf courses with its housing projects, hotels and marinas is not the job of a government but it’s a matter of respecting and following the Laws of the Land. Practicing favouritism unquestionably is a form of institutional corruption with all its implications. Such behaviour it’s certainly the wrong way on resolving the nation’s shortfalls.
They’re may be a sliver of hope in the horizon and that is: resurrecting Hippodamus of Miletos! He can then show the government and planning departments, the ways of a great visionary for a healthier ecosystem and the introduction of fairer social policies so desperately needed on this trapped little island…
I am grateful to Mr Chrysafis for permitting me to publish his article.
Andreas C Chrysafis is the published author of:
Andartes – Historical Novel
Who Shall Govern Cyprus – Brussels or Nicosia? – Political analysis
Porphyra in Purple – Adventure/Metaphysical novel
All books are available from bookshops, the Internet including Amazon.com.uk.
Other articles in the Vanishing Cyprus series include:
EU Union and Cyprus
Switzerland of the Med
Immigration: A New Peril
Politicians & Plutocracy
Media & Manipulation
Demographic Time Bomb