An unbearable city

Last Saturday, my 12-year-old son and I received a couple of lessons on city life on our way to the recycling point on Alexandras Avenue. The blue recycling bin was overflowing with waste of every kind. When my son asked why, all I could say was, «Some people will just throw their garbage wherever.» «Why don’t they use the green bins, which are empty?» he asked. I did not know what to say, but I did know that this experience in waste management was befuddling to the youngster – reality was at odds with what he had learned in school. We walked through a small park and came to another blue bin. Thankfully, it contained only recyclable materials. Bicycles flooded the street at that exact moment. It was a rare sight on this usually congested and noisy, even hostile, avenue. Hundreds of cyclists rode up the street – most of them young. They made a quiet, joyful statement: Streets belong to the citizens, we can get around the city without cars, without smog, without stress. The schoolboy learned something, something tangible, and without being lectured. Three days later, with the first rainfall during working hours, one of Athens’s main arteries became congested. The weather, we were told, caused more people to use their cars. Is this explanation sufficient? Will life come to a standstill every time it rains? Of course not. We have to look at the roots of the problem: five times more cars than the road network can take, public spaces being overrun by vehicles and other activities, inadequate public transport, no support for alternative means such as bicycles and no protection for the center of the city. Politicians are remiss and cowardly. Citizens neglect their city as though they despised it. They scorn public spaces, hiding in their cars. Instead of demanding a high quality of life, we rush to buy a third car on credit. Next time it rains, we will be trapped again.

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