A lost opportunity

Years ago, while enjoying a drink on one of the most beautiful balconies in the world in Santorini, I was sitting a table away from an archetypal yuppie Greek who did his best to ruin the sunset experience for everyone else. When he realized that he annoyed us, he turned around and said: «See how fair God is? He gave us the most magical place on Earth. Imagine if he had made us perfect as well?» His statement came to mind today as I gazed out over once-cosmopolitan Faliron Bay. It makes me mad to think that five years after the Olympic Games, Athens not only looks nothing like Barcelona but is even somewhat worse than it was before 2004. The spaghetti junctions have ruined whatever view this city had of the sea. The area around the Peace and Friendship Stadium is unkempt and dirty. The flower beds along the side of the road are awash with trash. The much-touted promenade that was supposed to stretch from the stadium to Glyfada is nowhere to be seen. The former airport at Hellenikon is a ghost that no one wants to address. Of course, it is always difficult to know who to direct your anger at in this country. Ministries, the Olympic Properties company and local authorities must all take a share of the blame for failing to do much to help the situation. There are some exceptions and most are due to the private sector – when it has been allowed to do what it does best in other parts of the world. The image of Faliron Bay, for example, will improve once the Niarchos Foundation’s plans for a new opera house and park come to fruition. It is such a shame. Very few cities have so many beautiful sights so near the city center. The Olympic Games gave us a unique opportunity and this was lost to expediency and large public works without a hint of aesthetic value (except for the works by Santiago Calatrava). Other opportunities to improve Athens have also been missed since. All we are left with is a question: Why are we so incapable of protecting the beauty that surrounds us?