NEWS

Out-of-control development pressures Athens into crisis

When a city gradually loses its surrounding forests to fire and construction and its parks to encroaching urban sprawl while its atmosphere thickens with pollution, it faces a deep crisis. Life in this Mediterranean capital has become almost unbearable, but it only has itself to blame. Here, people build wherever and however they like. Since 1884, when the grabbing of state land began in earnest, we have been burning forests and building on the ashes. In recent years, over 2 million Greeks have applied to the Agriculture Ministry to have areas of forest declassified. They build over rivers, ponds, lakes and coastal waters; in Attica, 60 percent of such bodies of water, stretching over 850 kilometers, are covered by development. Public land is turned into private property. Sixty years ago, 17.7 percent of the prefecture of Attica was developed, compared to 68.5 percent today. Four million people live in 1.5 million homes while 1.7 million shops and offices are squeezed into 544 square kilometers. Two million cars, 2,500 buses and 16,000 taxis cover nearly 18 million kilometers per year. Pollution levels are some of the worst in Europe. Only 28 percent of Athenians who lived in the city center in the 1980s still live there, most of them having moved out to the suburbs, chiefly toward the north, ignoring the fact that atmospheric pollution is just as bad there.