OPINION

A bid to change the Athens skyline

Because we lack green spaces in our capital doesn’t mean that we have to stop building altogether. And when we do build, this doesn’t mean that we have to hack down trees without a second thought. This confusion is perhaps a result of the heightened environmental sensitivity since the Parnitha blaze. There is a positive side though: The fire that ravaged Parnitha has created a solidarity among thousands of citizens and aroused their deep feelings of disappointment. There is a much clearer sense now of belonging to a community, a sense that a significant portion of citizens demand quality. They are not the majority, otherwise Athens would not be in its current state. But they are a sizable group and this group is quite likely to grow. One positive by-product of the recent disastrous developments is the demand for a change of direction. How this will affect life in our city is another matter. Many suggestions have been made over the past few days. One of the most serious proposals regards the rooftops of our apartment blocks. Athens looks terrible from above – we all know this but we all want space for our solar-powered water heaters. In a modern country, it is possible to manage economy of energy and keep a city looking good without getting rid of solar-powered water tanks. Europeans who witness the chaos that grips Athens in the summer are bewildered: «Why don’t you do something about it?» they ask. The honest answer is that we are better at complaining than at finding solutions. Just imagine how different the Athens skyline would be if its apartment blocks were adorned with more green and if their roofs were tiled with green or gray heat-repelling materials. Apart from opening up a whole new sector for retailers, such a development would raise the profile of the capital while lowering its temperatures. We would finally feel good in our city. The way things are now, hundreds of thousands of square meters – on apartment blocks from Kolonaki to Perama – reach blazing temperatures in the summer. Residents sweat and suffer, lose their composure and become aggressive. Then they switch on their air conditioners to cool off, but these simply expel more hot air into the sweltering capital. It would be nice to see citizens taking the initiative to modify their homes in order to make their living conditions in the capital more bearable. The government could offer incentives for this but the final decision would be on the citizen. The entire 20th century saw Athenians buying homes in ugly and heat-retaining apartment blocks with flat roofs that hold in the heat. The new century should see a change in our urban architecture, for the sake of our common future.