The climate crisis in Athens is exacerbated by urban planning mistakes

    25 Aug 2021

    This summer, Greece experienced a record heatwave when temperatures in Athens reached 44 degrees Celsius. Urban planning mistakes exacerbated the climate crisis in Athens and suffered from large-scale forest fires. Concrete rivers, chaotic buildings, and a love of cars prevent the city from resisting climate change, the New York Times states. Let’s check how strong migration began from the periphery since the civil war of 1946-49, and Athens began to build new housing chaotically.

    “I could only breathe in short, hot sips,” says Athenian Elena  Myrivili about one of the hottest days. The ashes of the fires made her black clothes white.

    Mirivili is the granddaughter of the famous Greek writer Stratis Mirivilis and a professor of social anthropology. In 2014, she was elected to the City Council of Athens, and for several years she was Deputy Mayor for Climate Change. She now heads the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center-funded climate change team.

    If nothing is done, she believes, Athens will shortly turn into a continuous “thermal island” with empty streets and cafes, fewer tourists, and a constant outflow of residents. The first signs of such a transformation are already visible.

    “I am happy that I do not live here,” said Maria Tsani, a 30-year-old scientist who moved to the Netherlands and decided to spend a few days at home. “There are no parks here, there are not enough trees, and when there is no shade, it is difficult to walk around the city.”

    Panagiotis Nasos, a 48-year-old worker, says the heat is getting worse every year. Because of this, his changes began much earlier.

    According to Mirivili, it would be interesting to implement a program of measures against heat in Athens. The Greek capital combines European and Middle Eastern cultures; it is neither too rich nor too poor. It is the second-most populous city in Europe after Paris.

    After the civil war of 1946-49, strong migration began from the periphery, and Athens built new housing chaotically. Dwelling houses were built at the expense of gardens and parks. Now, this excess concrete and black tarred roofs are actively absorbing heat. And the more the city expanded, the more critical the role of cars became – and, accordingly, new kilometers of paved roads appeared.

    The heat is strongly felt at night when the temperature seems to drop, but the surfaces, on the contrary, begin to give off the heat absorbed during the day.

    The lack of landscaping in Athens also means that tree roots will not absorb all the moisture in case of heavy rains. Moreover, a few decades ago, the city concreted its rivers, which could now take in excess water. Mirivili predicts devastating floods.

    The climate group currently plans to equip apartments with air conditioning, set up a network of cooling centers (as Canadians did during the July heatwave), and persuade power companies to redirect energy from industrial areas to residential areas during such emergencies. They also believe that asphalt should be made more reflective, and roofing should be covered with solar panels and gardens. In addition, thousands of new trees will be planted in Athens over the next five to ten years.

    Let’s remind you that in August, the island of Sicily recorded the highest temperature ever observed in Europe: +48.8° C.

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