At the recent Smart Cities Conference in Barcelona, Mayor Kaminis of Athens highlighted how the city is helping residents survive the increasingly hot summers in the Greek capital.
Imagine you are drinking margaritas while sprawled out at the front row of a bright, beautiful beach contemplating the turquoise waters as a refreshing breeze comes and goes. Your thoughts go to your first day in Greece, which you spent in Athens before catching the ferry to Paros. “I can’t go to Greece and not visit the Parthenon,” you had told yourself when arranging your vacation. Outside of your hotel, the thermometer read forty-five degrees Celsius, and you would have believed it if it showed seventy. You couldn’t imagine how people were able to survive the summer, and according to the papers, quite a few didn’t. You feel glad that is behind you, as you decide to take another dip. However, for others, life in the city continues.
Rising Temperatures and Health
Besides Athens’ geographical location, many human-made factors contribute to the heat. For example, finding green areas in the city is not an easy task. In fact, according to the 2014 OECD Factbook of Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics, Athens placed 4th from last out of all the metropolitan areas in the study, averaging less than one square meter of green space per Athenian. To put it in perspective, Madrid has 171, Milan 93 and Berlin has 906 square meters of green per resident.
According to the Athens Resilience Strategy for 2030, a plan made by the City of Athens as part of 100 Resilient Cities, “The density, anarchy and bad quality of our built urban fabric, as well as the lack of open spaces, are the main culprits” of the current climate conditions. Projections for the next 30 years only foresee more heat. All of those have a detrimental effect on Athenians’ health and well being.
In addition to long-term goals, such as creating more green spaces and better waste management, the city has taken action on the pressing issue of rising heat.
At the Smart City World Congress, Mayor Kaminis stressed that “Climate Change affects the poorest the most,” and that Athens is doing its best despite “an extremely difficult economic situation and the attention that has to be given to refugees and other groups in the city.” He also added, “Cities must show the way forward to national governments when it comes to fighting climate change. We owe it to our children.”
Cooling Centers and Extrema
One way Athens has dealt with the heat is through eight cooling centers spread across the city which are air-conditioned places to sit or lie down. Access to them is facilitated by an app called Extrema, which assists people who might be in danger.
Extrema was developed by the City of Athens along with the National Observatory with funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG Echo). The app can “spot-out, in real time, the city areas that suffer most, indicating thus where the victims are to be expected.” It then uses, “real-time satellite data, along with other model and city-specific data to estimate the temperature, humidity, and discomfort index for every square kilometer in the city.” If conditions are deemed unsafe, the user is notified of where the nearest cooling center is located as well as how to get there.
The cities of Paris and Rotterdam are also using the app and cooperating on its further development. In in a recent communication with Dr. Iphigenia Keramitsoglou, EXTREMA coordinator, she informed me that Milan was going to be the next “Extrema City.”
Another measure Athens has introduced is building more public drinking fountains. Three fountains were installed this summer at places with dense pedestrian traffic. Not everyone, though, thinks it is enough. Christina Kontaxi, head of Mediterranean SOS, told Kathimerini newspaper, “The city needs over 100 fountains, but currently only has 17, and most of them are broken.”
Athens has always been very hot in the summer, but with a population of 660,000, its growing heat challenges require increasingly urgent attention. The city’s measures to help residents cope in the short term can only be effective as part of a larger, longer-term plan of greening the city and creating greater resilience.