Sending a code 6 SMS for permission to exercise outdoors may be a thing of the past, but the changes it brought to city dwellers’ relationship with public space will probably stay with us for a while.
People who had been cut off from open public spaces, holed up in their cars and multiplex malls with indoor entertainment, hesitant about putting their private activities on public display, opened up their minds (as a result of an immediate and pressing need), reconnected with the urban environment, put themselves out there in the open and gradually became accustomed to being seen by everyone.
Never before in Greece have we seen so many people riding bicycles in parks, squares, pedestrian streets and sidewalks; so many kids and adults on scooters, hoverboards, roller skates and roller blades, bedecked in helmets and knee pads; so may teens on skateboards; so many joggers zipping around; so many exercise buffs jumping up and down without inhibition. It is, in fact, a different Greece. Roaring with sound on the canvas of the silver-grey city, it overshadows the usual buzz of street peddlers, buskers and regular walkers.
Before the pandemic, the economic crisis had pushed people out into the country’s parks and squares so they could hang out with friends cost-free, to free open-air screenings and art events – things that disappeared in the health crisis.
Now it’s different though. The desire for mobility, for outdoor activity has a dynamic character.
Citizens have stopped being members of the audience and stepped onto the stage, turning public space into their sports field and gyms, into a space of initiation and shared joy.
The prevalence of communication alone in a room with web cameras did not shrink private life. As soon as the coronavirus restrictions were lifted, this spilled out of social media into the real outside world. It is an unexpected twist in the game of self-revelation, a leap toward genuine extroversion – a notion that is perhaps somewhat unfamiliar to Greeks – with potentially broader consequences.