Have we sacrificed the capital to cars?

The less developed a city is, the more it tends to neglect its relationship with the fleet of vehicles that fill its streets. The implementation of a new parking system in Athens from next Monday will certainly mark a new start. Whether this measure will be successful or not remains to be seen, of course. But even before its implementation, many remain unconvinced of the necessity of such a reform. These reservations, which generally accompany every innovation in this conservative country (we need only consider the passionate opposition to the tram) appear to be directly linked to the use of public space. Our roads and sidewalks are public spaces and – like everything else which is shared – operate according to certain rules and require expenses for maintenance. Moreover, as a public asset, they should be useful and accessible to citizens. In Athens, the various afflictions crippling the city and the generally ugly appearance of its roads and public areas merely proves that we have been avoiding the implementation of self-evident measures. It would not be excessive to maintain that the Greek capital – with its chaotic construction and environmental violations – could claim first place in the free world as the most undemocratic city. The lack of proper planning and efficiency creates disadvantages for large social groups. And each of these groups feels betrayed and cheated by authorities. Motorists feel this way when behind the wheel; pedestrians feel the same on the city’s sidewalks and on marked-out pedestrian road crossings (which should be abolished, as Greece is the only country in Western Europe where they are totally ignored); mothers strolling with their children feel similarly neglected; as do disabled citizens, pupils in school buses, parents waiting for these buses to arrive, bus drivers in bus lanes (which are still consistently hijacked by other motorists), and the taxi drivers banned from using these bus lanes. The list is endless. But each of these social groups senses that the city, the government and the state are indifferent to their daily trials and tribulations (or, worse, that they are not even aware of their problems). Each instance of personal exasperation contributes to the creation of a sense of social asphyxiation and devaluation of urban life. Athens is not only ailing due to its overpopulation but also due its refusal to do the obvious. As a result, Athens is the only capital in the developed world where it is possible to park on a main road and leave one’s vehicle for as long as one wants. The new system to be implemented next week will, rightly, curb these liberties but is already facing opposition.

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