OPINION

End to monstrosities

It takes no special environmental or architectural sensitivity to admit that the unchecked housing development on many islands of the Aegean Sea has destroyed, or at least severely damaged, the natural surroundings. The rate of housing development is indicated by the fact that about 7,000 building permits are issued every year. Housing development is asymmetrical. Its degree and rate differ between islands. Many islands have reached the limit, while others, such as Myconos and Santorini, have already crossed the line. The authorities should already have taken drastic measures to prevent excessive housing development in order to preserve the unparalleled natural attraction of these areas. It offers some comfort that, even belatedly, the State appears determined to intervene in order to rescue what it still can. The Aegean Ministry has already issued a number of presidential decrees on certain islands, and there are more to come. According to these decrees, construction regulations will become stricter for new buildings both inside and outside residential areas as regards their area and height, so that they are in harmony with the surrounding landscape. Equally important is intervention at the aesthetic level. New buildings will have to abide by local tradition, while new measures will push for the renovation of old houses and the preservation of specified characteristics of traditional settlements. The content of the presidential decrees echoes the good will of Minister for the Aegean Nikos Sifounakis, but past experience has shown that good intentions are not enough. It should be noted that town-planning offices and other responsible services are mired in corruption and illegality. They are implicated in the construction of monstrosities and violations of the existing legal framework. It is imperative to take drastic measures against corruption. Clarity in legal provisions is needed so as to plug loopholes. In addition, it is necessary to introduce continuous monitoring by the responsible authorities. Most crucially, the preservation and the promotion of the beauty of the islands’ natural surroundings and their traditional settlements presupposes the mobilization of citizens themselves. They can achieve a great deal by checking on their fellow citizens and the local municipalities, which unfortunately are often the source of wrongdoing.