The Day that Athens had no Cars
I like Athens. The rough streets of Psirri, the surprising tranquility of Thissio, the flea markets of Monastiraki. Even the big highways in and around the city have always reminded me of Mexico City (a place, I really like). Inside a car or coming back from a beach, landscapes seem different. But what is it like to live here? That’s what I wanted to know.
After some month in, I have become acquainted with, what may be called “The traffic problem” and I am a part of it too. One can lament these circumstances in many ways. Instead, I was inspired to write a text that imagines how things would be different. It goes something like this:
The day that Athens was without cars, I was woken by birds singing in a tree near my house. The day that Athens’ cars were no longer, we did not spend two hours in traffic. I did not ingest led and gasoline, but instead my lungs filled with the scent of jasmine and orange trees offering their taste. On that day, there was no one honking at me, my children walked across the street in a playful way, rather than running for their lives. No one aggressed me in traffic, no pushing and near-hits, no angry faces or someone playing with certain body parts in a neighboring car. The tires did not mark the streets, leaving their traces of microplastic in the ground water.
And there was space: All this amazing space.
My neighbors called to plan what could be done with all the parking spaces, the beautiful gardens we would plant, playgrounds, place for the elderly and adolescent, many, many square meters. The long stretches where we used to have congestion, now opened for bicycles. Politicians appeared on TV predicting for the Athenians to become the fittest, slimmest urban population in the world. Bikers and pedestrians shared the road in a harmony unheard of. Somehow everyone found their space. On that day, miraculously, there was only one type of car exempt from disappearance: School buses. Though children in these busses became soon convinced that it was safe to ride a bike, unless their schools were too far away. However, on that day without cars, everyone reacted immediately, principles proposed for students and teacher in the same neighborhoods to form classes locally. So that school buses parked and became nearby classrooms. Parents watched their hopes for home office aligning with their children’s schedule. Over lunch, restaurant proposed to set a family table with special rebates. It felt like a Sunday, yet everyone had more time and no gasoline had to be covered, no injured from traffic being transported, no dead hit by a car to mourn. All that might have happened. While, in fact, when it did happen we rushed to the subway, like everyone else, so that the children would not be late for school. The trains were crammed, they arrived late, people yelling at each other, scared children, helpless parents, unwashed faces staggering out of the station. And in between their breathlessness, they could see: The sky cleared.
PS: The day when Athens was without cars eventually came. How? — To be continued