As the birthplace of democracy, Greece has long understood the importance of public space for civic activities and a higher quality of life. While Athens is still home to public squares and heritage infrastructure, the Greek capital is unfortunately sparse when it comes to parks. In fact, the city has the least green space per capita in all of Europe – a problem exacerbated by Greece’s recent economic woes, leaving the few existing parks to fall into disrepair. The consequent environmental problems that arise from lack of greenery across the capital and beyond has resulted in the World Wildlife Fund’s Greek chapter’s new application, Greenspaces – a mobile software that allows Greek users to photograph, upload and tag images of their local public parks, as well as rate them and leave reviews.
“We are aiming to motivate people to get out of their homes, to care more about the green oases that may exist in their city or neighborhood. We also wanted to find a way to motivate the municipal authorities, many of which typically take an interest in green areas only during election campaigns. And we wanted to make all this as user-friendly as possible,” explains Achilleas Plitharas, the head of the WWF’s Better Life campaign. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Athens has just 0.96 square meters of green areas per capita – nearly 10 times less space than the 9 square meters minimum recommended by the World Health Organization. Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki, has just 2.4 square meters of green space per capita.
However, the notion of greening the city of Athens is picking up some steam. A previous plan to develop the 1,500 acre former site of Ellinikon Airport was met with criticism as the premium beachfront land was sold to private developers who originally planned to cover 890 of those acres with buildings. A new deal was set this June, setting limits on what can and cannot be built, and the revamped masterplan has reduced the built area to just 667 acres and sets aside 494 acres for a public park, with 50 kilometers of foot and bike paths.