The first time I came across a Facebook post by Kostas Bakoyiannis, the new Athens mayor had written enthusiastically about an operation to clean up a neglected Athens square.
It wasn’t the first time. His account is chock-full of actions by the municipality’s cleaning and greening service in various areas, predominantly less prominent ones. Passionate workers with high-pressure hoses in their hands cleaning up degraded public spaces that are being restored to citizens.
A few days later I read an announcement by the Attica Regional Authority concerning works to lay a fresh covering of asphalt on central roads in Athens. The title of the story that reported it featured a statement by Attica Regional Governor Giorgos Patoulis: “Our priority is a safe road network for pedestrians and drivers.” And a few days ago the regional governor posted a statement about projects to paint lines on Attica’s urban roads.
Cleaning squares, landscaping flowerbeds, laying fresh asphalt, painting lines on boulevards – is that not what we expect the representatives that we vote into local government to do? Or maybe not. In what other country has it become fashionable during election campaigns to declare “we vote for the mayor to pick up the trash”?
Bakoyannis’ bustling activity doing what is self-evident for a municipal authority is more than welcome – it goes without saying.
The problem is not the squares and parks that are finally being cleaned, nor the individual “no-go zones” that are being returned to citizens (such as the pedestrian street next to Athens Law School, which for years had been an area frequented by drug users). The problem is that the mayor needs to be all over these issues to ensure that what is self-evident is in fact done.
And, I wonder, what about the bigger and more visionary projects that go beyond the first or second term of our mayors and regional governors? Who will talk about the great reform works that our cities need, about plans and interventions that will be needed by those who come after us?
Indeed, in the past, mayors were full of hot air about everything, while our roads disintegrated. Today we are in danger of moving to the other extreme – holding celebrations when a square is cleaned and not talking about the major issues. Some sense of balance is in order.