Photo: Nikos Kokkalias
With a refreshing breeze and the slowly sinking sun casting its deepening colors over the Attica basin, it was a enchanting afternoon on Ai-Yiannis Hill, an area on the border between the municipalities of Athens and Dafni-Ymittos. There, a clearing beside the 8th Elementary School – with a stunning view of the Acropolis, Philopappou and Lycabettus – has become a popular local hangout after authorities recently paved it to create a “balcony” overlooking the city. Groups of teens, starry-eyed couples, solitary walkers, children, and youths in cars and on motorcycles flood the area every day, especially at sunset.
They sit on the low stone wall on the edge of the clearing or stand around in small groups, chatting. They drink coffee, soda or beer, and nibble on chips and candy bars until the sun goes down behind Mount Aegaleo to the west. It’s become a daily ritual, this chilled-out escape, and the evidence of it is abundant: plastic bottles, cans, paper and plastic cups and bags, straws, bottle caps and tissues blanket the hill behind the stone wall and lie in clumps on the paving in front of it.
And the people gather again the next day, in this dirty yet familiar environment. Apparently, our sidewalks, parks and clearings are not our backyards, after all. Public space is not our problem, so it’s OK if it’s turned into a dump.
On the road leading up to the hilltop Church of Ai-Giorgis in Neos Kosmos, where you can look out to the southern suburbs and all the way to Piraeus, the scene is a similar one, both along the roadside and in the clearing in front of the church. Plastic, glass and paper trash is stamped and crushed into the dirt behind the low stone wall and either side of the path. It seems that up there on the hill, people don’t look down but keep their eyes on the view ahead, stretching to the Saronic Gulf beyond the concrete jungle, looking sparkling and inviting, as the clouds change shapes above it, as though touched by a magic wand.
Another vantage point with an amazing view unknown to most is in the Tourkovounia woodland in Galatsi, just below the Monastery of Profitis Ilias. Stretching all the way to Mount Parnitha, the view takes in all of northern and western Athens and is especially magical at sunset, attracting dozens of locals. Their presence is so warm and friendly, and their silhouettes against the darkening sky almost painterly. But the trash! There is a bin, but it’s buried under a mountain of the stuff.
The truth is that there are not enough – if any – garbage cans at these locations and littering is tempting when it’s already apparent. Sure, the state and local authorities have a responsibility to keep all public areas clean. That said, so do citizens. If everyone simply made sure to take their trash with them when they left, the situation would soon be very different. Maybe you can’t fault people for wanting to spend time in such beautiful spots, enjoying such beautiful views, or the municipal authorities for being unable to keep up when no one’s acting responsibly, or the cleaning crews for complaining that their numbers are too few. But at some point, we just have to stop making excuses to justify what is simply a lack of decency and education.
Two opposite examples shine the way, and one of them is also on Ai-Yiannis Hill. The other popular plateau there is apparently cleared regularly by locals who pick up trash when they’re out walking. Even Lycabettus, where the crowds can get a bit crazy, is clean most of the time – of course there are trash cans everywhere and even big black trash bags tied to trees here and there.