Athens has started creating “pocket parks” in a bid to tackle its pollution and heat, transforming small plots once ridden with garbage and weeds in Greece’s capital city.
The city is closing traffic lanes and transforming them into bike routes, pedestrian walks and small areas of greenery – all in a bid to cut down on vehicles, which account for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions. Fountains, which lower temperatures and improve air quality, are also being repaired.
Athens Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis took advantage of the lockdown last March when traffic pollution fell by as much as 50%, to push the project forward. He told Reuters: “It’s about creating green spaces, lowering the temperatures, giving quality of life and creating new reference points inside the city.”
The Greek capital experienced a population explosion in the decades after WW2 when migration from rural areas fuelled uncontrolled building. The concept of ‘antiparochi’ – owners exchanging land plots for apartments – became widespread.
Detached houses were replaced by rows of blocks. With more people came more cars and smog, in a city where temperatures can top 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) during a heatwave.
Christos Zerefos, head of the Athens Academy Research Centre for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology, told Reuters: “Trees were cut down, houses were built, residential areas were created, but at the same time, traffic congestion problems increased.”
The city, which is cradled by mountains, can be stifling during heatwaves when no northern trade winds are blowing and pollutants are trapped in the urban basin. Climate change will only make things worse, scientists say.
Over the decades, the capital has tried several measures to curb traffic pollution, which also damages ancient monuments. The 2004 Olympics brought new highways to bypass central streets, a subway and the airport’s move out of the city.
Mayor of Athens Kostas Bakoyannis added: “Now the challenge is to find a new balance.”
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.