This past Spring Break I traveled to Athens, Greece. Despite questions of their economy and European unrest, I was struck most by the sustainability of the city and surrounding areas. On the bus from the airport to Syntagma Square we passed wind turbines covering every open land space. Even modest houses had solar panels on the roofs. The transit system is easily accessible, with stations located every couple blocks and you can take trains hours outside of the city to far-off ruins. However, Athens struck me as a city in transition. Most buildings in the city are adorned with a combination of graffiti and overflowing plants and flowers exploding from the walls. Clementine trees line most streets, painting orange and green vignettes on every block. Coming from New York, Athens felt like a city in which every room has a balcony. There was little division between outdoor space and indoor, especially in the Taverna restaurants that spill onto the sidewalks. There was an unrest and a tension between the city and the natural world that sprouted up in cracks on the street.
Despite the crippling debt faced by the city, Athens felt rich in life. But thedebt also explains to some extent the sudden investment in renewable energy that I witnessed in the suburbs. Given Greece’s infamous financial woes, it makes sense that the country is turning to renewables when their primary source of non-renewables are imported. The sun intensity in Greece makes it the prime place for photovoltaic power…and sun tanning.
It made me think: New York could be so much softer, so much greener, and so muchmore sustainable if it were a necessity for economic success. Green space is proven to help people focus and feel more positive but green space is so repressed in New York.
The Greek people did not seem to be fighting the flora and fauna around them, but instead incorporated it into daily life. Renewable energy, outdoor space, and a respect for wildlife made Athens a city unlike many. In addition, unfilteredcoffee (would recommend), graffiti, and an abundance of street cats were among the quirks of the Greek capital. While as New Yorkers, we may be turned off by Greece’s economic hardships and city grime, there is a wealth in Athens that we could afford to adopt.