Grass: Not a cheap option

In places where Athens’s new tramlines have already been laid, the surrounding soil has now been covered by a luxuriant green sward in keeping with the prevailing concept that parks and urban greenery are simply decoration and not part of the natural environment. In some places, the lawn has already withered or been trampled by pedestrians. Poor workmanship in laying the irrigation system is another threat to the lawn’s survival, according to representatives of the Panhellenic Union of Horticultural Contractors. Then there is the question of who is going to mow these miles of lawn every week and generally keep it in good condition. Lawns might originally cost less than tiles or other construction material, but they are far more expensive to maintain. If no provisions have been made to keep up this green carpet and funding for it, it can only be considered as temporary «decor» until it withers away. Grass was chosen as the «lesser evil» in restoring the landscape after a large number of trees had to be felled to build the tram. Overhead power cables and the rolling stock’s connectors mean that no large trees can be sited near the rails. Horticulturalists specialized in landscaping say that in sections where pedestrians are not supposed to cross – and there are many of these – small shrubs could have been used as a natural barrier, requiring less water and care. Meanwhile, as they have a greater leaf surface area, shrubs produce more oxygen than grass does and help keep down temperatures. Lawns, on the other hand, require a great deal of attention if they are to survive, particularly in a country with long periods of dry weather and very high temperatures. Although the lawn being planted near the tramlines is being watered by hand-held hoses for the time being, provision has been made for an underground irrigation system in order to conserve water. This will go into operation when the tram goes into service. However, in order to function properly, the irrigation hoses need to be 15 centimeters below the surface, together with a system that prevents the roots from getting into the pipes and blocking them. In many sections of the line, this underground watering system is at a depth of only 3 centimeters, making it highly likely that it will sustain considerable damage within a short space of time. According to the landscapers’ union, «the people who are carrying out the project have neither formal nor practical qualifications, with the result that obvious technical mistakes have been made along with other slip-ups that are likely to become evident in future.»