Athens: the city we love to hate

We use our cars as much as we possibly can, we throw our garbage more or less anywhere, we build illegal structures and extensions, we park where we shouldn’t, and we do not really give a second thought to the consequences of our actions. And so we never tire of complaining about our city, condemning it as unbearable, as dirty and noisy, a concrete jungle with hardly a patch of green; a capital where it is virtually impossible to find a nice home, to be properly treated in state hospitals and public services. We complain about high pollution levels, we fear burglars and bag-snatchers, we worry about winding up jobless. Not long ago, Athens was last on the Eurobarometer list of 31 European cities in terms of residents’ satisfaction. And all the negative aspects of our capital that displeased Athenians then continue to upset them now. The smog, traffic congestion and gridlocked city center, the anarchic construction, the illegal buildings on river banks and along our coasts, the occupation of squares by the tables and chairs of countless cafes and restaurants, the noisy nightclubs, the old, broken – and dangerous – sidewalks, the badly maintained road network; all these things tarnish the image of a post-Olympic city with its shiny new tram, metro extension and refurbished airport. The impersonal, dirty, tiring Athens to which we have become accustomed has eclipsed the bright, lively, frenetic but very human party city that this capital once was. And it is no coincidence that the former image – the negative one – is the one that is being highlighted by both domestic and foreign studies. Recent research by an international organization pointed to Athens as the dirtiest city of the civilized world, the city with the worst quality of life in western Europe. This image of Athens as a city besieged by smog, illegal construction, chaos and inefficiency has been consolidated over the years; a city full of illegal immigrants, with inadequate infrastructure and ineffective inspections, a city which is multicultural but also uncivilized. The worst thing is that we Athenians, almost masochistically, confirm this reality. Athens remains a city we love to hate. We do not look after our city and we have a remarkable lack of respect for whatever is communal property. Cities are built and maintained by their residents, by their behavior, their habits, their outlook. And cities in turn affect their inhabitants – if they are grey and miserable, so too will be their residents. It is up to us to improve our city – individual citizens with our outlook and behavior and the government, through action.

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.