A densely-populated concrete jungle that lacks green space, Athens has become one of the hottest capitals in Europe and despite its vulnerability to extreme temperatures, has failed to make environmental innovations, experts warn.
Residents and visitors sweat through a scorching week in the Greek capital, only finding respite on cafe terraces at night.
And the mercury is expected to rise again with a high of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) forecast for this weekend, prompting authorities to close part of the Acropolis and some major parks.
In 2007, the city’s more than three million residents experienced a record high of 44.8C.
“With concrete and tarmac, cities become heat islands. In Athens there are very few green spaces to lower the temperature,” Kostas Lagouvardos, director of research for the Institute for Environmental Research and National Observatory of Athens, told AFP.
“And the forests surrounding the town were lost because of the fires.”
Despite being surrounded by hills and rivers, Athens is filled with concrete buildings.
From the top of the Acropolis, the view of the city is an endless expanse of buildings and houses, interrupted by a rare green patch.
Central Athens is the second most populous area in Europe after Paris, according to Eurostat.
“In Greece, construction continues all the time and everywhere! This is the biggest problem,” said urban planner Aris Kalanddes.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, there is only 0.96 square meters of green space per resident in Athens, which falls far short of the World Health Organization’s recommendation of nine square meters per capita.
With only 11 percent of its surface covered by trees, Athens is near the bottom of the list compared to other European capitals, according to the European Environment Agency.
“There is hardly any countryside left around Athens, the pastures are falling apart and ruining everything.
The lack of a strategy and politics appear to be the main obstacles to changing the trend, according to specialists.
In 2021, Athens appointed its first climate tsar responsible for implementing a strategy to adapt infrastructure and behavior to climate change.
The appointment came with almost five million euros of funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB).
“The urban fabric of Athens is made up of dense buildings that cover 80 percent of the city’s surface area. All this tarmac and cement remains warm during heatwaves,” the EIB said in its report.
Projects launched since include three “green corridors” in the city and improved water management at the city’s highest peak, Lycabettus.
But some current urbanization projects run counter to environmental goals.
Many trees have been cut down to build new metro stations and a large housing complex is about to be built on the grounds of the former Ellinikon airport.
And a “grand promenade” planned for the center of Athens, with trees and benches, has been a construction site for three years.
“There is a lack of political planning and engagement from the entire population,” said Iris Lykourioti, a professor of architecture at the University of Thessaly.
“We are in a time when investment policies prioritize environmental protection,” he said.
The legacy of the Greek economic crisis is still being felt, he warned.
“Budget cuts have not only limited public services, but the aid plans (of Greece’s creditors) have opened the way to the exploitation of (EU-recognized) Natura protection areas” throughout the country, he said.
© 2023 AFP
Citation: All concrete, no trees: Athens ill prepared for heatwaves (2023, July 21) retrieved 21 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-concrete-trees-athens-ill-prepared-heatwaves.html
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