Will the city stay green after the Games are over?

There is definitely something different about Athens these days. Corners planted with annuals, freshly painted facades, new sidewalks, spanking clean squares, fountains with water in them (the two were not always automatically associated in Athens), brightly colored flags and banners everywhere, little kiosks: everywhere the sense of newness. The most recently completed «corner» is Syntagma Square, the heart of the city, which has been undergoing a gradual dressing up to receive its Olympic visitors. An Athenian who takes a stroll around the center these days quickly realizes what was missing – color and vegetation. Although the changes have not been spectacular, more and more people are stopping to have a look before disappearing into the metro or an office building. «Look how pretty Stadiou Street is! I just saw children playing on the grass in front of the National Library. I was so happy because it was something I hadn’t seen for years,» said pensioner Maria Kaisari. «The changes have not been overwhelming, just minor aesthetic improvements but they have made all the difference,» said architect Elina Sgouritsa. «It is a city that makes you feel better, that encourages you to notice it and respect it more. That is what I have been noticing about people lately – they haven’t been littering. Athenians have been taken by surprise because this pleasant change has happened very quickly.» Teacher Grigoris Constantinou agrees. «Over the past week one has truly had the impression that something important is about to happen,» he said. «We had been hearing about a big event, but hadn’t seen anything. Now visitors are aware that we are about to hold the Olympic Games.» The truth is that over the past few years it has been the construction sites that have prevailed. Figures released by the Municipality of Athens show the extent of the work done – a total of 753,000 square meters of roads asphalted, 250,000 square meters of new sidewalks paved, 6,500 trees planted, 21,000 shrubs and 300,000 annuals, and street lighting replaced in the seven municipal departments. Larger areas such as Philopappou Hill and Plato’s Academy have been reforested, and new ones such as the old Fix site in Patissia and the Alepotrypa Park planted with greenery. Around 1,200 buildings have been refurbished, brightening up dreary streets. Many central squares such as Kaningos and Exarchia have been revamped. In some others, such as central Omonia, ambitious efforts have been made. The only false note is in Kolonaki Square, where an aluminium fence continues to surround the site. The hope in everyone’s heart is that the city’s «party clothes» will not be discarded right after the Games.

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