An impression is given from arguments in favour of moving the University of Cyprus school of architecture to Phaneromeni high school, once the famous Girls’ Lyceum, is that central Nicosia has become a dirty and dangerous place to live.
One could even believe the tall stories of the area becoming a hub for crime and the underworld as if there were drug peddlers at every corner, and moving the academic institution would solve all the problems overnight.
The ‘big clean up’ would be achieved by creating student dorms, transforming the city centre within the Venetian walls to a zero-emission area with no cars, installing ‘smart city’ infrastructure and encouraging businesses to move there.
All the UCy architectural school has to do is pack up a few boxes and move some 200 metres east from its current location. So, what’s all the fuss about?
If the students have already been there all along (former Astir-Ethniki building at the bottom of Ledra Street), why have there been no student dorms all this time?
And if the building is deemed ‘unsuitable’, according to the head of the technical chamber ETEK, how will the older and fragile Phaneromeni school suddenly be more suitable?
There is no doubt that handing over the historic school’s prize location to the university’s architecture department may be an impressive move.
As long as the new premises are utilised properly, the building becomes a living part of the local community, without ignoring the high school’s legacy and providing education to children living in the area.
Nicosia Municipality has been desperately trying to revive the old town centre after its tolerance of the overdrawn delay in rebuilding Eleftheria Square that split the capital between Makarios Avenue and Ledra Street.
The high street suffered, and commercial activity walked over to the new malls, most of which will never return.
However, it has also tolerated the bulldozing of a row of preserved buildings near the Archbishopric that had to make way for the enormous cathedral going up there.
Nicosia does not need another larger-than-life religious temple.
No one has yet to face charges of illegally demolishing listed buildings in violation of preservation orders, and nobody ever will.
Municipal councillors are generous in bailing out others as well, but little has been done to provide proper incentives for businesses to relocate back to the old city centre.
Some innovative projects have been achieved through private initiative, while the Town Hall lacks a vision for historic Old Nicosia.
If the Phaneromeni move is an exercise to remove what some people see as an eyesore of immigrants living in low-cost or poorly maintained buildings, then the problem lies elsewhere, perhaps hidden between bigotry and prejudice.
Let’s hope the venture will not become another opportunity for landowners to make a quick buck without investing in health and hygiene.
Improving the road network, limiting access to electric vehicles, providing universal wifi, tax incentives for small businesses, finishing the ‘Old GSP’ project with underground parking would have been better alternatives.
Simply uplifting a university department and supplanting it into a living school is not a sign of progress.