Traffic is one of the most pressing issues that need resolution. While all cities face similar problems, Nicosia leads the pack. Focusing on Nicosia, the state's main effort is concentrated on developing the regional road network—an effort I not only agree with but advocate for intensifying. On the other hand, there is a parallel focus on increasing the use of public transport (where we are far from setting up proper structures), yet little attention is paid to the more obvious solution, which is the development of the wider city core rather than on the periphery.
Create a mental picture by delineating this "wider core": north of Spyros Kyprianou Avenue (formerly Troodos) from the south, east of Archangelos Michael, then Prokopiou from the west, Metochiou, and then the Walls from the north, and Larnakos from the east—part of the municipalities of Nicosia, Aglantzia, Strovolos, Engomi, and Agios Dometios.
This is an area of about 25 square kilometers that accommodates an average of 120,000 permanent residents. Incidentally, a similar area in central London (part of Westminster and part of Kensington & Chelsea) permanently houses about 350,000 inhabitants—three times as many as our area or almost as many as the population of the entire Nicosia district. Similar proportions will be seen in similar areas of other major cities.
We may not be a megalopolis in the strict sense of the term, but land is land, area is area, and population is population. If we have one-third the population density of others, then it means one of two things: either we are super happy with what we have around us, or we are wasting our land. Based on what I've seen, heard, and experienced over the years, the former doesn't seem to be the case, and I'm convinced the latter is true. Psimolofou is 15 km in a straight line from Liberty Square. If you take that radius in London centered on Marble Arch, then within that radius, there are over 7 million people living permanently. So, whichever way you look at it, there is a bit of a waste of resources on our part.
What we should be aiming for
We need to find ways to increase population density in this area. The infrastructure basically exists and needs little strengthening. If the right incentives are given to increase the supply of housing, then thousands of buyers will prefer to live in the center because they will have all the services at their feet. They will use fewer cars, and engage in more walking, cycling, and other means of transport, and the streets of Nicosia will be less congested.
Encouragement measures should be combined. The obvious one is to increase building and floor rates in areas already designated as residential areas for the construction of three or more stories. Tax incentives could additionally be given to the first one hundred (say) developments of 18 to 30-unit capacity. Small electric bus routes could be set up within neighborhoods to take people downtown or on the main axes of larger buses. There could be some tax breaks for a five-year period for new buyers who choose to relocate downtown.
The approach to the issue so far has obviously not achieved the expected results. Instead of learning from our failures, we see efforts continuing on the same old bad practices: incentives on paper instead of in practice, expansion of growth areas outward, the need for continued expansion and construction of new infrastructure, building rate increases downtown at the drop of a hat, the introduction of restrictions on lot sizes to cap rate increases, lack of tax incentives, and talk of imposing taxes on idle property (which, with some exceptions, is a bad practice). There is too little, too late when it comes to public transportation, with the list getting longer as you think about it. It's time we learn to set small and achievable goals and think outside the box we have learned to live in.
Andreas A. Andreou, MRICS, is the CEO of APS Andreou Property Strategy - Chartered Surveyors.