Hilltops with a view

Environment Minister Tina Birbili?s draft law on biodiversity may have been voted through Parliament on Thursday, but not without first going through a gauntlet of controversy, threatening the government?s majority, forcing the minister to go back on her own words and losing much of its essence. Watered down as it is, however, the law does finally offer a framework for the protection of coastal areas and wetlands, without threatening the owners of small plots of land. This, after all, was what the controversy was all about: property versus the environment.

We cannot help but wonder, however, what the virtues are of a ?pristine? seaside plot in an area that has been neglected and abused, near a beach that is suffocated by illegally built homes and hotels and a dumping ground for debris, or a race track for SUVs and motorbikes. What is the value of a landscape, a Cycladic one for example, jam-packed with buildings, swimming pools, unmarked streets running every which way and beaches covered with sun umbrellas and backed by rows of shops? Such landscapes are of little value today and tomorrow or the the day after will be worth nothing. But who cares about the day after tomorrow?

By the same token, building on hillsides that have a gradient of over 40 percent is an environmental crime; after all it is this practice that has irreparably transformed all the hilltops of the Cycladic islands and destroyed the beautiful bas-relief formed by natural rock formations and the lay of the land in general. The advice of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright was never to build atop a hill. In the Cyclades, everyone wants to build on a hilltop, beyond the reasonable scale, beyond reason, in order to sate their thirst for a vista and to squeeze in an illegal ground-floor/basement level as well.

So, every hill, every mountain top is littered with white bumps, monuments of vanity, sores on the natural landscape and on the island. They represent the incessant scorn we have for our our nation?s true wealth, the constant rape of our most valuable heritage.

We inherit the homes of angels and transform them into piles of concrete that even tourists on a shoestring budget would not deign to stay in. The national obsession with building anything anywhere is stronger than the instinct for survival.

Hopefully, Birbili?s new law will help salvage what little is left.

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