Greeks asked to repaint their homes before Games

They’ve built splendid walkways around ancient monuments, resurfaced streets and pulled down the giant billboards spoiling Athens’s skyline. But the real challenge, Athens’s facelift officials said yesterday, has been left till last – persuading the city’s 4 million residents to change their chaotic habits before the August 13-29 Olympics. The head of a massive pre-Games project to beautify the city appealed to residents to paint the facades of their apartment blocks and to start parking in proper spaces before the world’s attention is on the city. «We get very upset when our work is spoiled by people’s behavior,» said Yiannis Kalantidis, head of the cleanup agency officially named Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens. «Sidewalks designed for the blind are occupied by parked cars, motorcycles and restaurant tables.» Kalantidis urged occupants of downtown apartment buildings to spruce up the graying facades of their buildings. «By the end of the month, 260 building fronts will have been painted. More and more people are supporting us,» he said. «But in Barcelona (before the 1992 Olympics), they painted 44,000 buildings. I’m not that optimistic for here.» Although the government offers financial support for building improvements in the city center, all apartment owners must agree to painting the facade. The city’s redevelopment project is Athens’s biggest since Greece won its independence from the Ottoman Empire some 170 years ago when Athens’s main public buildings and roads were constructed. Original plans to build a city modeled on grand European capitals proved too ambitious at the time. The city’s population has swelled in recent decades, straining public services to the limit and encouraging a free-for-all mentality in which rules and order often take a back seat. Before the Olympics, Athens will finish restoration work on the 2,500-year-old Parthenon and other ancient monuments, refurbish its museums, beautify main squares and clear key roads of parked cars. Kalantidis said about 2,500 advertising billboards have been removed from downtown buildings and that a further 5,500 are earmarked to go. «People shout insults at you when you’re digging up the road and pat you on the back when the job’s finished,» he said. «But things were worse in the beginning. The works have made people – may I say it – more civilized.»

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